On Tuesday, March 28, Secretary Xavier Becerra of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education about the fiscal year 2024 budget. Chairman Aderholt (R-AL) opened the hearing with the goal of identifying the programs most critical to our population, creating investments that will provide the greatest returns, and reducing the impacts of inflation among the most marginalized. Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro emphasized the historic investments the subcommittee has made over the past two years and the need to continue to build on this progress.

Questioning began surrounding unaccompanied children crossing the border who end up under the care of HHS. Secretary Becerra assured Congress HHS is doing everything possible to prevent these children and teenagers from trafficking and dangerous working conditions. There were a few mentions of fentanyl and how HHS will handle the opioid epidemic. With current proposed cuts, state opioid response grants would face a $350 million cut. Secretary Becerra stated that funding for treatment as well as prevention programs is necessary to address this crisis.

If spending is to return to FY22 level, the Office of Management and Budget estimates this would be a 22% cut in all spending areas. Rep. DeLauro asked for an estimate of the real impacts this proposed budget cut would have. Secretary Becerra listed a few statistics, including a loss of 100k child care slots and 200k spots for the Head Start Program, as well as 2 million people losing health care through the Indian Health Service. Secretary Becerra also explained the 988 crisis line requires a permanent funding stream to continue to expand its services.

Many questions surrounding the topic of maternal health were fielded from both Democrats and Republicans alike. Secretary Becerra acknowledged that we as a nation are falling behind most other developed countries in this area. The Secretary, in response to a question about access to mental health services, stated that the President’s budget allocates $4 million to address behavioral health needs, which would include funding towards crisis care services and increase the capacity of 988 and other call centers.

By Maya Benysh, Policy Intern