The Biden administration will “relocate” $860 million in funds meant for COVID-19 relief programs to the Health and Human Services department in order to cover the cost of housing the thousands of child migrants who remain in United States custody.
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra defended the switch in a letter to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees Wednesday. Becerra claimed that “his department needed the funds to ensure the safety of unaccompanied migrant children arriving at the border,” according to a report in the New York Post. “They also need to cover costs associated with staffing at shelters for these children, Becerra wrote.”
According to Bloomberg News, which broke the story, “HHS’ costs for housing unaccompanied migrant children had gone up by $1.7 billion as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, due to precautions the government needed to take,” thereby justifying the use of COVID-19 relief funds for what would typically be considered an immigration issue.
Becerra told Congress that HHS needs the money not because the Biden administration has so far failed to handle a crisis at the border, but because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “placed significant demands” on HHS and imposed severe restrictions on how the immigrant children can be housed in order to control the spread of COVID-19.
The funds would have gone to the National Institutes of Health, but Becerra assured Congress that the change in allocation would “not disrupt or impede planned NIH activities.”
This is actually the second time the Biden administration has rerouted funds meant to address the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to help handle the border crisis. Back in March, when the number of children crossing the border overwhelmed Customs and Border Protection, the administration transferred $1.6 billion in funds to cover “the cost of caring for unaccompanied immigrant children, as the Biden administration grapples with a record influx of migrants on the southern border,” per Politico.
“The redirected funds include $850 million that Congress originally allocated to rebuild the nation’s Strategic National Stockpile, the emergency medical reserve strained by the Covid-19 response. Another $850 million is being taken from a pot intended to help expand coronavirus testing, according to three people with knowledge of the matter,” the outlet said.
Becerra’s HHS department, Politico added, also “pulled roughly $436 million from a range of existing health initiatives across the department.”
Although the Biden administration celebrated a “massive drop” in the number of children in CBP custody in May after the number of children custody hit a high of 22,500, many of those kids were simply transferred from CBP to HHS where they were placed in separate detention facilities beyond the reach of immigration courts, which placed limits on how long children and families can remain in immigration authorities’ custody.
CBS News reported, two weeks ago, that around 14,000 children remain in U.S. custody in some form, most in HHS’ temporary detention sites, and many in a “large tent complex at the Fort Bliss U.S. Army base,” where they are enduring difficult conditions, “isolation,” and “despair,” and where they are beyond the reach of journalists who have “made several requests” to visit the site. Ft. Bliss, the network said, is “the largest facility the U.S. government has ever set up to house migrant children.”