The federal health department has been quietly using funds from critical programs to rectify President Donald Trump’s immigration policy that forcibly separated more than 2,500 migrant families at the southwest border.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has pulled from at least $200 million in funds that were initially moved to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the arm of HHS in charge of family reunification, during the Obama administration, according to Politico. At least $17 million in unused funds from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program was used to swiftly reunite kids and parents.
The agency got stuck with leading the family reunification process, despite reportedly not wanting the job and having no say on Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy of criminally prosecuting asylum-seeking parents, which led to separating families.
Now, HHS is scrambling to reunite more than 2,500 migrant kids in its custody with their parents by the end of July per a court-imposed deadline. The agency has, so far, reunited approximately 58 kids under the age of five with their parents, the ACLU told ThinkProgress on Tuesday. A Department of Justice (DOJ) lawyer told the ACLU and the federal judge who ordered prompt reunification that HHS has been reuniting kids over the age of five, but hasn’t specified how many yet.
The process of housing an influx of migrant kids and transporting them to the Department of Homeland Security to reunite with their parents has come at a high cost. The administration spent more than $30 million in the past two months for simply housing thousands of kids, according to Politico’s unnamed sources close to ORR operations. One major driver of spending is “influx shelters,” costing nearly $800 per night; These temporary contracted facilities are more than triple the cost of shelters with which ORR typically contracts.
Politico’s Dan Diamond writes:
“The ballooning costs have also prompted officials to prepare to shift more than $200 million from other HHS accounts, even as the White House weighs a request for additional funding for the Department of Homeland Security — a politically explosive move almost certain to antagonize fiscal hawks in the run-up to the midterm elections.”
It’s unclear how many health programs are paying the price for Trump’s immigration policy. ThinkProgress reached out to HHS for specification and comment. The agency said they’d reply as soon as they can, as they have a number of pending inquires.
The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, which the agency dipped into to pay for Trump’s border policy, is the largest federal program dedicated to providing HIV care and treatment. Some money also supports syringe service programs, which are critical to curbing the country’s other health emergency: the opioid crisis.
An HHS spokesperson told ThinkProgress that funds transferred to ORR last year “were unused and unobligated and had no impact on operation of the Ryan White program.” For this, she said it wasn’t moved because of Trump’s border policy.
An Obama-era official told Politico money was moved because leaders worried about unanticipated costs at the border.
“Now the additional costs are being faced because the Trump administration decided to implement family separation — and they used the refugee shelters to facilitate it,” he said.
But unused money from the program should go to medical research and other health priorities, as they were intended to, said Emily Holubowich, executive director of the Coalition for Health. “If there’s leftover money from Ryan White, it should go to support programs for poor people with HIV and AIDS, not this outrageous separation policy,” Holubowich told Politico.
HHS intended to transfer $263 million to ORR, according to Bloomberg, but didn’t amid public scrutiny. Politico reports that there is a chance money is still transferred given the costs of family reunification.