Lowey statement at hearing on Department of Health and Human Services 2017 budget request
Thank you, Chairman Cole and Ranking Member DeLauro, for holding this hearing. Secretary Burwell, on what may be your last occasion to testify before the House Appropriations Committee, I thank you for your service, first as Director of OMB and now as Secretary of Health and Human Services.
With recent emerging threats, your remaining year as Secretary will not be easy. Our mission to eradicate Ebola is not yet complete, and new outbreaks of dangerous diseases, such as Zika, are pushing federal public health infrastructure resources to the breaking point. Congress has a request for supplemental funding to combat Zika, and I urge this Committee and Congress as a whole to meet this need without delay.
While outbreaks require significant attention, we cannot turn our backs to man-made public health emergencies at home. I struggle to find the words to describe the criminal incompetence that jeopardized thousands of American citizens in Flint, Michigan. I look forward to hearing about actions the Department is taking in coordinating the federal response to address the short-term and long-term health needs that will be required.
The budget request includes increases for vitally important initiatives, such as early childhood education, biomedical research, and substance abuse treatment and prevention. As an appropriator, the Department’s request for substantial sums in mandatory funding is of concern, particularly the fact that without this mandatory request, your budget amounts to a decrease in discretionary funding of 1.5%.
With that said, there are significant improvements that I would like to highlight.
One of the major obstacles to economic security for low-income working Americans is access to affordable, high-quality child care and early learning, such as Head Start. While this Committee has increased funding for these initiatives in recent years, we are not meeting our commitment to the public. In fact, the value of federal funding for child care has lagged well behind inflation and increases in child care costs. As a result, the federal share for child care has decreased by approximately 20% since 2003.
More than 14 million American children are eligible for child care subsidies, yet only 15% receive Child Care and Development Fund assistance. These funding constraints do not exist in a vacuum. By not making investments in child care, hardworking parents may have to reduce their hours, leave their jobs altogether, or delay education programs that could allow them to invest in their family’s economic security.
An increase of $201 million for child care is desperately needed, but this alone will not be enough. Federal support for child care and early learning programs for low-income Americans must be increased nationwide to meet this demand and chart our children on a path to success from an early age.
Your budget also includes targeted investments in biomedical research, such as the Cancer Moonshot, and increases in the BRAIN Initiative that will deepen our understanding of the human brain to combat diseases and disorders including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Autism. These investments not only fund research that eases suffering for patients, they could greatly reduce ballooning costs associated with treatment down the line.
I look forward to your testimony.