October 30, 2020

Schumer, Gillibrand Demand Answers From HHS Regarding Potential Arbitrary Funding Cuts To Critical Public Health Programs

Funding Cuts Would Impact COVID-19 Care, Food For the Elderly, HIV and Opioid Treatment, Newborn Hearing Screenings, And More

U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand joined colleagues in pressing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to ensure that millions of dollars in federal funding for critical public health programs will not be withheld in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. President Trump and Attorney General Barr have threatened to withhold the funding as part of an illegitimate Trump order to punish Americans in New York City, Seattle, Portland, and Washington, D.C.

To ensure that critical funding for public health essential programs is delivered, the senators requested that HHS respond to the letter with a copy of the compiled report of federal grants, funding awards, and health programs from all agencies the Department oversees; an explanation for how the Department plans to implement President Trump’s directives regarding punishing New York City, Seattle, Portland, and Washington, D.C.; and an explanation to whether President Trump’s directives will influence the granting or withholding of coronavirus relief funds. 

“President Trump continues to vindictively target New York and goes out of his way to make illicit and irresponsible retaliatory threats that endangers our communities’ access to healthcare in the middle of a pandemic,” said Senator Schumer“In the midst of the current public health crisis and an increase in COVID-19 cases, President Trump is dangerously proposing cuts to public health programs for the most vulnerable populations. This includes cuts to HIV treatment, addiction and recovery services, nutrition and mental health services for the elderly, hospital preparedness, care for COVID-19 patients and more. These programs are vital to the health and safety our of communities and I will do everything I can to stop these cruel cuts. The president must stop playing these reckless games that put lives at risk.”

“I am extremely concerned about recent reports that President Trump is looking into cutting essential public health programs we need to combat this pandemic in New York City,” said Senator Gillibrand. “As New Yorkers work to safely rebuild our city and our country, the Trump administration must immediately cease these arbitrary and counterproductive attacks.”    

Schumer and Gillibrand recently pressed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), requesting information about the agency’s implementation of a White House memorandum ordering federal agencies to withhold funds from cities that President Trump falsely and absurdly claimed are being run by “anarchists.” The senators have yet to receive an initial response from the EPA.

Gillibrand has previously condemned threats by the Department of Justice to withhold federal funding from New York City.

Read the senators’ letter here and below. 

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Dear Secretary Azar,

We write with significant concern regarding a new report[1] that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is considering eliminating millions of dollars in federal funding for critical public health programs, including federal coronavirus relief, amid the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. This is a clear and unconscionable attempt by President Trump and his Administration to choose winners and losers for public health funds based on whether or not the politics of American cities align with the politics of the President. 

These potential funding cuts were reportedly compiled in response to President Trump’s September 2, 2020 memorandum entitledMemorandum on Reviewing Funding to State and Local Government Recipients of Federal Funds that Are Permitting Anarchy, Violence, and Destruction in American Cities.”[2] President Trump announced this policy allegedly “. . . to ensure that Federal funds are neither unduly wasted nor spent in a manner that directly violates our Government’s promise to protect life, liberty, and property.”

The policy further states, “it is imperative that the Federal Government review the use of Federal funds by jurisdictions that permit anarchy, violence, and destruction in America’s cities.” In a September 21, 2020 memorandum, the White House directed the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the United States Department of Justice to review federal funding to state and local governments. This memorandum specifically targets Portland, Oregon; New York City, New York; and Seattle, Washington. The White House later added Washington, D.C. to the list.

Tying federal funds for local public health efforts to an arbitrary definition of “anarchist jurisdictions” is of questionable legality and an appalling abuse of power—particularly in the midst of a deadly pandemic and economic recession. According to a report, HHS has identified numerous public health programs and funding mechanisms for potential cuts, including those related to HIV treatment, the opioid crisis, addiction and recovery services, lung disease, hearing screenings for newborns, nutrition and mental health for the elderly, hospital preparedness, child support enforcement, care for COVID-19 patients at community and migrant health centers, and more. Any arbitrary funding cuts to these programs would have detrimental effects on the vulnerable communities they serve, as well as negatively impact the delivery of crucial health care services during a historic crisis this Administration has utterly failed to mitigate. Additionally, these cuts could further exacerbate the health inequities already made worse by this pandemic.

Due to the grave implications of such decisions, we request the following information and responses to questions from your Department:

  1. A copy of the reported list HHS compiled identifying the federal grants, funding awards, and health programs from all agencies the Department oversees.
  2. An explanation for how HHS plans to implement the President’s memorandum in regard to funding decisions for public health programs.
  3. Will the President’s September 2, 2020 memorandum influence any HHS decisions regarding the granting or withholding of coronavirus relief funds to the above-named cities?

We respectfully request this information within fourteen days of receipt of this letter.

Sincerely,