Trump administration to cut funds from health programs to pay for coronavirus response

The Trump administration will pay for the coronavirus response in part by cutting funds from other health programs, including one that pays for heating and cooling assistance for the poor. 

Of the $136 million the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) plans to transfer from other health programs to bolster the coronavirus response, $37 million will come from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, according to a notice sent to Congress Tuesday night by the agency and obtained by The Hill. 

HHS will make several other transfers, including $63 million from the National Institutes of Health and $4.9 million from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which funds mental health and substance abuse treatment and prevention.

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The Aging and Disability Services Programs will lose $4.2 million.

HHS does not need congressional approval to transfer the funds. 

“It is not an easy decision to transfer funds from other HHS programs, but it provides needed resources to continue the Department’s robust and multi-layered public health preparedness and response efforts,” an HHS spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill. 

The funding cuts are small compared to those programs' overall budgets. For example, the energy assistance program will still have $3.7 billion in funding after the cuts. However, the decision has already prompted attacks from Democrats. 

"[That] is reprogramming we believe undermines health care protections for the American people. ... It's out of one pocket, into the other. Robbing Peter to pay Paul, we think, is not a good policy," said House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerProcedural politics: What just happened with the coronavirus bill? DC argues it is shortchanged by coronavirus relief bill Lysol, disinfecting wipes and face masks mark coronavirus vote in House MORE (D-Md.) 

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Democrats argue Congress should appropriate new funding rather than take money from existing programs. While the Trump administration requested $1.25 billion in new funding to respond to the coronavirus, in addition to shuffling around existing funds, Democrats and Republicans have argued that amount is woefully inadequate. Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerMcConnell launches ad touting role in passing coronavirus relief Joe Biden can't lead the charge from his home in Delaware Texas man arrested for allegedly threatening Democrats over coronavirus bill MORE (D-N.Y.) has called for $8.5 billion in emergency funding. 

The funding will be transferred to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Office of the Secretary.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar told congressional appropriators Wednesday the transferred funding would be used in part to domestically manufacture masks that the U.S. typically gets from China. 

There are only 17 million masks for use by medical professionals in the U.S. stockpile of medical supplies, and 5 million may have expired, Azar said. The U.S. needs at least 300 million masks, he added.