Chairwoman DeLauro Statement at Hearing on FY 2021 HHS Budget Request

2020-02-26 09:30

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Chair of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Subcommittee's hearing on the Fiscal Year 2021 budget request for the Department of Health and Human Services:

Good morning, Mr. Secretary, welcome to the Labor, HHS, and Education Subcommittee. This is our first hearing on the President’s fiscal year 2021 Budget request.

However, I want to start with a matter of urgency: the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. Cases are growing, as is alarm. This is both domestically and internationally.

The U.S. government has responded to the COVID-19 outbreak with aggressive measures. Significant travel restrictions. A mandatory 14-day quarantine for individuals returning to the U.S. from Hubei province.

Mr. Secretary, I support your declaration of a public health emergency. We are dealing with the likelihood of a global pandemic.

That said, I have serious concerns about the Administration’s responsiveness with respect to funding. I understand senators of both parties expressed a similar concern to you at their hearing yesterday. I have repeatedly asked for information about expenditures thus far, and about balances remaining in the Infectious Disease Rapid Response Reserve Fund—and yet, I have not received an adequate answer.

In addition, you submitted a letter late Monday night notifying the committee that you would begin transferring up to $136 million from other HHS programs, including NIH and LIHEAP, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

And, on Monday, the Administration finally submitted a request for emergency supplemental funding. But there is no supporting documentation. You must share that information immediately. In that request, the Administration also asked permission to shift more than $500 million from Ebola preparedness. That is a mistake—we are not robbing funding for other emergency activities to pay for this emergency.

What the American people need is an emergency supplemental bill that answers these questions, supports development of therapies and a vaccine, funds state and local agencies and health care providers, and strengthens our public health infrastructure. And, the American people need that now.

Another important issue—an issue that I, like many Americans, find deeply disturbing—is the Administration’s on-going and cruel treatment of asylum seekers and children entering the United States.

In recent weeks, we learned that agents with ICE, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, are showing up at HHS-funded shelters to fingerprint 14-year-olds in the Unaccompanied Children program. That is outrageous—they are allowing ICE agents to intimidate kids. I recognize there is a statute. But, it remains the responsibility of HHS to ensure the safest environment for the children. So, I want HHS to make clear to its grantees that children are to have a representative present to allay their fears and ensure their understanding of the process. And, I want to see a copy of that guidance.

We also learned that ORR took confidential notes from children’s therapy sessions and shared them with ICE for multiple years. I appreciate your comments on stopping this. It should not have happened. You and I know this: it cannot happen again. There needs to be a firewall with DHS. ORR is not an immigration enforcement agency. Its mission is to provide care for children.

Turning to your budget now, Mr. Secretary, despite what you may try to say, this document would hurt millions of Americans. And, you have to ask, who is paying the price. It is not the wealthy and well-off. No, it is the vulnerable who are the victims. It is the working people and middle-class families of this country who would be forced to do less with less.

This is a time they need more help, but you are proposing to cut $10 billion from the Department of Health and Human Services, an 11 percent cut.

  • You are leaving people at risk of a potential pandemic by cutting $700 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and especially the infectious diseases rapid response reserve fund. We discussed the coronavirus earlier.
  • You are telling suffering families that we will not do all we can to help their ill loved ones by cutting $3 billion cut from the National Institutes of Health. It is the world’s leading biomedical research and you want to hit the brakes on that research. It is unacceptable.
  • You would leave people without enough trained doctors and nurses by cutting hundreds of millions of dollars for training for health care careers, like nursing. The health issues of this nation require a trained health care workforce.
  • You would force 6 million seniors to have to choose between eating, buying prescription drugs, and heating or cooling their homes by eliminating LIHEAP, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
  • And, you would reject the bipartisan intention of this Congress to save lives and address a public health crisis by ending the $25 million for gun violence prevention research. 100 Americans are killed every day by guns, 36,000 per year, two thirds of which are suicides, a particular concern for our veterans.

That is not all. On the mandatory side, you would take away health insurance from 20 million Americans by cutting health care by $1 trillion over 10 years and eliminating the Affordable Care Act and its Medicaid expansion. And you are still in federal court to repeal the Affordable Care Act, endangering health coverage for 130 million Americans with pre-existing conditions. To date, you have not come up with the comprehensive plan to help.

I could go on and on. The consequences of your budget would leave us as individuals and as a nation less healthy, less safe, and less able with respect to economic security. And so, let me say: we will not allow you to go after millions of Americans. Instead, we will continue to invest in health workforce programs, medical research, and public health, because it is what the American people need and what the American people deserve.

I appreciate the Administration’s request for increased funding to reduce maternal mortality, as well as additional funding to address tick borne diseases like Lyme disease. Although, it is one step forward and three steps backwards, as the growth in incidents of Lyme disease is related to climate change. Yet, you propose to eliminate the CDC’s climate change program.

The Administration is also requesting increased funding for the second year of an HIV Initiative to reduce transmission of HIV by 90 percent over 10 years. We strongly share that ambitious goal. Again, however, I must note the contradiction at the heart of this. Because the Administration is simultaneously proposing to cut NIH’s HIV research portfolio and USAID’s PEPFAR program, eliminate the Affordable Care Act, and eviscerate Medicaid. These programs are all essential to combatting HIV. In fact, Medicaid is the largest payer for HIV care in the United States.

So, there is a lot for us to discuss today. We appreciate you for being here. But, before I turn to you for your testimony, let me turn to the Ranking Member, Tom Cole, for any remarks he would like to make.


116th Congress