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Photo: DARIO LOPEZ-MILLS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

The Department of Health and Human Services will reallocate $860 million of funds from National Institutes of Health to cover pandemic-related costs for unaccompanied children and staff at the Southern border, according to a letter obtained by Axios.

Driving the news: Health Secretary Xavier Becerra sent a letter to House and Senate appropriations leadership on Tuesday, saying the pandemic "has placed significant demands" on the HHS unaccompanied migrant children program.

  • Becerra said that since they are required to quarantine children who arrive at the border and must increase social distancing measures, the amount of "state-licensed shelter beds" has drastically decreased.

The big picture: Becerra urged the government to deploy "influx and emergency intake shelters to receive children from the border as quickly as possible."

  • He also said that the HHS will make sure that the transfer of funds does not negatively affect the NIH's plans.
  • Becerra added that he already consulted with the White House Office of Management and Budget about the reallocation.
  • Bloomberg was first to report the reallocation.

What they're saying: "The $860 million for the unaccompanied children program would simply cover pandemic-related cost increases and to ensure the continued health and safety of children and staff," an HHS spokesperson told Axios.

  • "At the same time, the need for pandemic-related precautions, such as testing and quarantining, has added at least $1.7 billion in costs" to the program, the spokesperson said.
  • "The funds are meant to ensure that HHS can humanely house and care for these children and promptly get them into the care of loved ones and other safe caregivers," the spokesperson added.
  • "We’re also continuing to call on Congress to invest in long-needed programmatic reforms to decrease the program’s reliance on funding transfers and reduce the time it takes to unify children with families."
  • The spokesperson also noted that reallocations are not uncommon.

Go deeper

Updated 24 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Vaccines: Key FDA committee takes on the big booster question — Los Angeles County to require vaccination proof at indoor bars — France suspends 3,000 unvaccinated health workers without pay.
  2. Health: Worsening crisis at Rikers Island jail spurs call for action — 1 in 500 Americans has died — Cases are falling, but deaths are rising.
  3. Politics: White House invites call with Nicki Minaj to discuss vaccine — Gottlieb says CDC hampered U.S. response — 26 states have limited state or local officials' public health powers.
  4. Education: Denver looks to students to close Latino vaccination gap — Federal judge temporarily blocks Iowa's ban on mask mandates in schools — Massachusetts activates National Guard to help with school transportation.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.
Tina Reed, author of Vitals
Sep 17, 2021 - Health

Key FDA committee takes on the big booster question

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A key FDA advisory committee is meeting today to discuss Pfizer's proposal for a COVID vaccine booster — but it will set the stage for the entire booster debate.

The big question: Not only whether experts believe there’s enough evidence to support boosters, but also whether they believe additional shots should be made available for everyone or limited to older Americans and the immunocompromised.

Hochul orders release of 191 Rikers Island inmates

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul. Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) ordered the release of 191 inmates from Rikers Island on Friday, and announced an agreement that could move up to 200 more to state prisons.

Why it matters: COVID has deepened a crisis at the prison, which had years of neglect and dysfunction prior to the pandemic.