DeLauro statement at hearing on Department of Health and Human Services 2017 budget request
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Madam Secretary, welcome back to the Labor-HHS subcommittee. It has been exactly one year to the day since your last appearance here. I want to express my gratitude for the work you and your Department do.
First let me start by thanking Chairman Cole. Together, we were able to make many great investments in the Labor Health and Human Services bill last year.
In many ways, last year’s Omnibus moved the federal budget in the right direction. It began to leave behind the shortsighted policies of austerity that have slowed our economic recovery. We made real progress on funding for NIH research, the antibiotic-resistant bacteria initiative, medical countermeasures, and access to high-quality early childhood education.
But I continue to be disappointed that we did not do better for other programs under this subcommittee’s jurisdiction. I am troubled that the Labor-HHS bill received only a fraction [about one-half] of its fair share of the $66 billion increase provided by last year’s budget deal. While the other non-defense subcommittees received an average increase of 6.9 percent last year, the Labor-HHS bill increased by only 3.4 percent. That needs to change this year.
[I also want to add that I am disappointed that we did not hold a hearing on prescription drug pricing last year].
One year ago, we were in the midst of a world-wide response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Now, we find ourselves confronting two public health crises: the Zika virus and the tragedy in Flint.
First, the Zika virus, which may be causing thousands of babies in Latin America to be born with severe birth defects, is infecting travelers returning to the United States, and is even being transmitted sexually. We should act quickly on the administration’s request for emergency supplemental appropriations to defend against this serious threat.
Some of my colleagues have expressed a desire to shift unobligated funds that Congress provided for Ebola to respond to Zika. I strongly oppose that idea. The threat of Ebola is not over. I would be anxious to know what activities we would have to forgo if we shift funds away from Ebola to Zika. We need to be able to respond to multiple public health threats at the same time, and Congress must act quickly to protect Americans from the Zika virus.
At the same time, HHS is the lead federal agency on the ground in Flint, Michigan, where we have learned that thousands of children have been exposed to lead-poisoned water for more than a year. Not only did the State of Michigan fail to protect its people from lead poisoning, the government created this crisis and magnified its effects with delayed responses.
It is imperative that we resolve this crisis immediately and provide the health and education interventions these children and families will need going forward. I hope the state, the administration, and the Congress will all do that.
These emergencies demonstrate that our federal system needs to respond more rapidly as threats arise. That is why this Congress and last Congress, I proposed funding the Public Health Emergency Fund to enable the federal government to immediately respond to public health threats. It is modeled on the Disaster Relief Fund, which enables a rapid federal response following a natural disaster. If we can act quickly to respond to floods and natural disasters, we should be able to act quickly to respond to public health emergencies.
But we also need to strengthen our investments in HHS programs through annual appropriations. That brings me to the topic of today’s hearing: the HHS budget request for fiscal year 2017.
As you know, I strongly believe that programs in the HHS budget are among the most important responsibilities of the federal government. They support life-saving research, state and local public health infrastructure, Community Health Centers, and home-heating assistance for low-income families. Literally, they save lives.
Madam Secretary, there are a lot of good proposals in this budget request. In particular, I applaud the President for his continued commitment to Head Start, child care, and preschool.
But I am disappointed to see cuts to cancer screenings and public health programs at the CDC, and that funding for HIV research remains level at $3 billion for 2016 and 2017.
I am also concerned that other important programs rely on mandatory funding. The budget includes $1.8 billion in mandatory funding for NIH research, $115 million in mandatory funding to support early interventions for individuals with serious mental illness, and $500 million in mandatory funding to help individuals who are addicted to prescription drugs and opioids.
We need to increase this subcommittee’s allocation to support NIH research and to address the opioid epidemic in this country, rather than rely on mandatory funding that will not materialize. That is why the subcommittee allocations that will be released next month will be so important. I hope my colleagues on the other side of the aisle will join us in urging an increase for Labor-HHS in fiscal year 2017. For the good of the children and families that depend on these services, we must make this a priority.
Thank you. I look forward to the discussion.