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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

Church groups say they can help the government more at border

A mural inside of Casa del Refugiado in El Paso, Texas. Photo: Stef Kight/Axios

Despite the separation between church and state, the federal government depends upon religious shelters to help it cope with migration at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Why it matters: The network supports the U.S. in times of crisis, but now some shelter leaders are complaining about expelling families to Mexico when they have capacity — and feel a higher calling — to accommodate them.

Updated 6 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: Fauci: Unvaccinated kids must wear masks in school this fall — CDC says schools should still universally require masks and physical distancing.
  2. Politics: New York to lift mask mandate for vaccinated people — CDC director says politics didn't play a role in abrupt mask policy shift.
  3. Vaccines: Sanofi, GSK COVID vaccine shows strong immune response in phase 2 trials — Vaccine-hesitant Americans cite inaccurate side effects.
  4. Business: How retailers are responding to the latest CDC guidance — Delta to require all new employees be vaccinated — Target, CVS and other stores ease mask requirements after CDC guidance.
  5. World: Taiwan raises COVID-19 alert level amid surge in cases — Biden administration to send 20 million U.S.-authorized vaccine doses abroad.
  6. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.
2 hours ago - World

Biden backs Gaza ceasefire for first time in call with Netanyahu

Biden with Netanyahu in 2010. Photo: Debbi Hill/Pool/ Getty Images

President Biden expressed support for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in a call on Thursday evening with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the White House said in a statement.

Why it matters: This is the first time since the beginning of the crisis last Monday that Biden or anyone in his administration has publicly backed a ceasefire. It will increase pressure on Israel to seek an end to the conflict, which Netanyahu has insisted will continue until Hamas' ability to attack Israel is further degraded.