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MIgrant minors play soccer at a holding facility in Donna, Texas. Photo: Dario Lopez-Mills/AFP via Getty Images

The federal government has been paying travel costs for adult sponsors trying to get to shelters to pick up migrant children, a Department of Health and Human Services agency spokesperson confirmed to Axios.

Why it matters: Officials would not provide numbers, but the policy shift underscores the urgency the Biden administration feels to quickly release kids who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border alone and remain in HHS custody.

  • Despite efforts by the Administration for Children and Families to speed up the process of vetting sponsors and releasing kids, the total number of children and teens in the agency's network of shelters continues to rise — recently surpassing 20,000.
  • HHS, which oversees ACF and the child migrant program, has been criticized for not doing enough, fast enough, to lower the population of minors in its custody.

How we got here: Migrant child care providers had already been authorized to use government funds to pay for flights for some children being released to family members or other vetted caretakers living in the United States.

  • Paying for that travel is a "normal part of the unaccompanied children program's operations," the ACF's Office of Communications told Axios in a statement.

The authorization was updated on March 22, allowing government funds to also be used for the transportation of sponsors to migrant child facilities when needed, according to ACF.

  • The allowance came despite the agency's own policy stating that the sponsor "is responsible for the unaccompanied alien child’s transportation costs," and under "no circumstances will [the Office of Refugee Resettlement] pay for the sponsor’s airfare."

What they're saying: Mark Greenberg, a former HHS official who oversaw the child migrant program under President Obama, told Axios it's a good decision in view of the rising number of kids in custody.

  • Given reports it costs about $775 a day to house a child, covering sponsor travel costs could save the government money, Greenberg said.

Go deeper

Biden administration reinstates fast-track deportation flights

Guatemalan immigrant Yamari Yaneli, 1, waits with her family for U.S. Border Patrol agents to transport them to a processing center. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

The Biden administration on Friday resumed fast-track deportation flights to Central America, the Department of Homeland Security announced.

The big picture: Officials said Monday that they were planning to resume "expedited removal flights" following an increase in the number of migrants crossing into the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, the Washington Post reports.

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Winter view from Charlotte as winter storm Izzy creates dangerous conditions in Charlotte, N.C. on Jan. 16. Photo: Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A major winter storm was lashing much of the East Coast on Sunday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The big picture: Heavy snow and ice accumulations were "likely to produce hazardous travel," downed trees and more outages from the Mid-South to the Northeast, per the National Weather Service. Some parts of the U.S. can expect to see up to a foot of snow through Monday.

Updated 7 hours ago - Science

Volcanic eruption in Tonga caused "significant" damage

This satellite image of the eruption on Jan. 15 taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency and released by National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT). Photo: NICT via AP

Significant damage has been reported in Tonga following an undersea volcanic eruption on Saturday, which covered the Pacific nation in ash and cut off communication lines.

Driving the news: The eruption triggered tsunami warnings across Tonga's islands and in other regions, including the West Coast of the U.S. and New Zealand, which were later lifted.