On June 13, 2023, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing titled “Examining the Policies and Priorities of the Department of Health and Human Services.” Committee members asked Secretary Becerra of the Department of Health and Human Services questions about children’s health-related to gender-affirming care and unaccompanied children at the border.

Secretary Becerra asserted that when it comes to gender-affirming care for transgender youth, he trusts medical professionals, parents, and children to make the best decisions for their health needs. Representative Grothman (R-WI) asked Secretary Becerra directly if he supports allowing minors to undergo gender-affirming surgeries, to which Secretary Becerra answered that as bureaucrats, they do not have the expertise to make medical decisions, and those decisions should be left to those directly involved. Representative Takano (D-CA) reiterated that there is no need to create “moral panic” over gender-affirming care, as surgeries for minors are rare. Representative Jayapal (D-WA) asked Secretary Becerra about mental health in response to the increasing threats towards people, doctors, and children’s hospitals that support gender-affirming care for trans people and youth. Secretary Becerra explained that the growing number of threats creates unimaginable stress for trans people and trans youth, and every American is entitled to health care, including trans people and youth.

Various committee members expressed concern for unaccompanied children subject to human trafficking and exploitative child labor. Secretary Becerra testified that the Department of Health and Human Services does not have sufficient funding, authority, or resources to follow unaccompanied children once placed with a parent, close relative, or vetted sponsor. Representative Grothman asked Secretary Becerra if the sponsors are DNA tested, which they are not, but he did explain that they undergo a background check and fingerprinting to ensure they are suitable placements for children. Rep. Chavez Deremer (R-OR) offered a partnership with Secretary Becerra and HHS to address the lack of policy and department jurisdiction that creates a gap between the placement of a child with a sponsor and knowledge of the child’s well-being under their sponsor’s care.

Committee members also raised the issue of mental health services. Representative DeSaulnier (D-CA) asked Secretary Becerra how Congress can partner with HHS to address mental health for youth. Secretary Becerra advised partnership with mental health institutions and agencies to support youth and try to implement mental health services in school by encouraging school districts to see if they directly qualify for Medicaid dollars. Additionally, the Secretary added that mental health needs to be treated at the same level as physical health, especially in the insurance industry. Overall, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce focused on a wide array of issues that impact the safety and well-being of children and youth.

By Leah Sarfity and Ellison Olson, Policy Interns