The Biden administration redirected over $2 billion allocated for other health initiatives to care for unaccompanied migrant minors, Politico reported Saturday.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will receive $850 million meant for the federal emergency medical fund depleted by COVID-19 and another $850 million set aside for COVID-19 testing, according to three people familiar with the matter, Politico reported. HHS struggled to open and staff several emergency intake facilities to move over 20,000 migrant children out of border patrol facilities.
“They’ve been in a situation of needing to very rapidly expand capacity, and emergency capacity is much more expensive,” Mark Greenberg, Migration Policy Institute senior fellow and former leader of the Obama administration’s HHS administration for children and families, told Politico. “You can’t just say there’s going to be a waiting list or we’re going to shut off intake. There’s literally not a choice.”
The Biden administration was criticized for its response to an increasing number of migrants arriving at the southern border, Politico reported. Customs and Border Protection officials apprehended over 178,600 migrants including around 17,100 unaccompanied minors, according to the agency.
The $2.13 billion in funds that were redirected to the federal unaccompanied children program is more than its operating budget for the last two years, according to Politico. HHS took an additional $436 million from other departmental programs to assist unaccompanied migrant minors.
“All options are on the table,” and HHS has previously moved funds from other areas where they aren’t immediately needed, HHS spokesperson Mark Weber told Politico. “This program has relied, year after year, on the transfer of funds.”
HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra can move money around agency programs as long as he informs Congress, Politico reported. The agency had to build more emergency facilities to hold migrant minors to comply with COVID-19 regulations, which cost around twice as much to operate as licensed facilities.
Over half of all unaccompanied migrant minors in HHS custody are in emergency shelters where the agency has spent around $850 million on just testing and quarantine, according to Politico. Over 20,000 migrant children were in HHS custody as of Thursday, the agency reported.
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