On April 15, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (LHHS) held a hearing with newly confirmed Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra on the department’s preliminary FY2022 budget request released on April 9.
Secretary Xavier Becerra testified before the subcommittee to testify and answer questions on the President’s discretionary budget request for HHS, and what it entails for the future of public health in the United States.
Secretary Becerra began his opening statement by noting that “HHS is at the center of many challenges facing our country today—the COVID-19 pandemic, unaccompanied migrant children, the opioid and substance use crisis, gun violence, and more— and we are rising to meet those challenges.” Secretary Becerra added that the pandemic shed an enormous light on the health inequities that have persisted throughout our nation for decades, marking the importance for sustained Federal funding to public health to reduce these inequities. NACCHO has been a strong advocate for increased and sustained investments for public health to overcome the years of boom-and-bust cycles of Federal funding.
Secretary Becerra outlined some of the budget’s provisions, including: $131.7 billion in discretionary spending for HHS, an increase of $25 billion from FY2021 appropriations; $6.5 billion to establish the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H); and $10.7 billion dollars to address the opioid crisis.
Mr. Becerra also stated that the budget request outlines $8.7 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an increase of $1.6 billion from the FY2021 appropriation. Becerra noted that increased funding to CDC is integral to mitigating current and future threats to population health. NACCHO has been speaking with members of Congress and their staff, advocating for increased funding to the CDC in FY2022.
During his testimony, Secretary Becerra also highlighted the importance of recognizing gun violence as a public health crisis, noting that the budget request allocates $100 million for a new CDC program, Community-Based Violence Intervention initiative, in conjunction with the Department of Justice (DOJ).
The budget also outlines $905 million for the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS), $200 million above the FY2021 appropriations. Secretary Becerra testified that the SNS served an integral role throughout the pandemic, providing medical supplies and personal protective equipment for states, cities and territories throughout the country.
In his closing statement, Secretary Becerra praised the President’s budget request for HHS, stating that “to build back a prosperous America, we need a healthy America.”
During the question-and-answer session, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle praised Secretary Becerra, and were delighted by his appointment to HHS. However, an overwhelming number of members on the subcommittee raised concerns about the surge of migrants, particularly unaccompanied minors, at the border. Secretary Becerra noted that he will work to break down “bureaucratic barriers” with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to make sure that “our principal interest is the well-being” of the children.
Mr. Becerra fielded questions regarding refugee resettlements; the rising opioid crisis; the current state of the pandemic; sponsors for migrant children; mental health; rule-making processes; and racial health inequities. The President’s comprehensive budget request is expected to be released in the coming months.