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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.

California wildfire explodes in size, destroys historic town

Battalion Chief Sergio Mora looks on as the Dixie fire burns through downtown Greenville, Calif. on Aug. 4, 2021. Photo: Josh EdelsonAFP via Getty Images

The small Sierra town of Greenville, California, was heavily damaged on Wednesday night into early Thursday as the Dixie Fire surged northward amid high winds, extremely dry air and hot temperatures.

The latest: The Dixie Fire, California's biggest blaze, continued to threaten communities in Plumas County into Thursday night, as more mandatory evacuation orders were issued in the region.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Top labor leader Richard Trumka dies unexpectedly at 72

Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, who led the largest federation of unions in the country for over a decade, has died at 72.

The big picture: Trumka began working as a coal miner in 1968 and would go on to dedicate his life to the labor movement, including as president of the 12.5 million-member AFL-CIO beginning in 2009.