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Trump Administration Redirects Millions From Health Programs to Fund Immigration Detention Centers for Children


According to a letter sent to Congress by Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar on Sept. 5, the Trump administration will reallocate up to $266 million from health programs to fund the growing need for immigrant detention centers for children. The money will come from programs that support cancer research, HIV/AIDS prevention and others.

HHS, the governmental body responsible for the children in custody, currently has an estimated 13,000 immigrant children in its detention centers, a record high number, according to CNN. To support the detention centers, Azar has authorized up to $186 million from current health programs and an additional $80 million from underused refugee resettlement programs to be redirected for 2018.

The health services targeted in this move include $5.2 million from aging and disabilities services programs, $16.7 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, $9.8 million from Medicare and Medicaid program operations, $6.3 million from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, $13.3 million from the National Cancer Institute and $87.3 million from the National Institutes of Health. CNN reports that so far the only funds that have been used were $17 million from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program, which provides low-income services to HIV/AIDS clients.

It’s not unusual for the HHS to redistribute its funding. HHS funds have been redirected to immigrant housing programs since 2012, and when crises arise such as the Zika virus epidemic in 2016. Under federal regulation, agencies can freely shift funds between programs as long as they’re not moving more than 1 percent of a program’s budget or increasing the new program’s allowance by more than 3 percent. Funding decisions above that require approval from Congress.

“The number of unaccompanied [immigrant] children in HHS custody has increased steadily, and existing shelter capacity is nearly full,” Azar wrote in his letter, which is addressed to Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). “I plan to use my Secretarial transfer authority to reallocate up to $186 million in FY 2018 funds from other FY 2018 HHS resources, and to reallocate up to $80 million from refugee programs within the Office of Refugee Resettlement so that it can increase shelter capacity and meet its statutory duty to provide shelter to all unaccompanied [immigrant] children referred to HHS for care.”

Header image via U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Facebook page.