News Releases

Administration plotting to withhold funding from Democratic-leaning cities for COVID-19 care, food, HIV and opioid treatment, among other programs

Senators: “Tying federal funds for local public health efforts to an arbitrary definition of ‘anarchist jurisdictions’ is of questionable legality and an appalling abuse of power—particularly in the midst of a deadly pandemic and economic recession”

Senators: “This is a clear and unconscionable attempt by President Trump and his Administration to choose winners and losers for public health funds based on whether or not the politics of American cities align with the politics of the President”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, joined by U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), led their colleagues U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) today in pressing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to ensure that millions of dollars in federal funding for critical public health programs will not be withheld to inflict political retribution in the middle of a pandemic. President Trump and Attorney General Barr have threatened to withhold the funding as part of a politically-motivated scheme to punish Americans in Democratic-leaning cities, including Seattle, WA, where residents have been protesting for racial justice.

HHS reportedly sent a list of more than 1,500 grants awarded to Portland, Oregon, New York City and Washington, D.C., in addition to Seattle—cities that President Trump and Attorney General Barr have specifically targeted due to local leaders’ support of racial justice protests—to the White House budget office.  

“Tying federal funds for local public health efforts to an arbitrary definition of ‘anarchist jurisdictions’ is of questionable legality and an appalling abuse of power—particularly in the midst of a deadly pandemic and economic recession. According to a report, HHS has identified numerous public health programs and funding mechanisms for potential cuts, including those related to HIV treatment, the opioid crisis, addiction and recovery services, lung disease, hearing screenings for newborns, nutrition and mental health for the elderly, hospital preparedness, child support enforcement, care for COVID-19 patients at community and migrant health centers, and more,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar.

“Any arbitrary funding cuts to these programs would have detrimental effects on the vulnerable communities they serve, as well as negatively impact the delivery of crucial health care services during a historic crisis this Administration has utterly failed to mitigate. Additionally, these cuts could further exacerbate the health inequities already made worse by this pandemic,” the lawmakers continued.

To ensure that critical funding for public health essential programs are delivered, the senators requested that HHS respond to the letter within two weeks with a copy of the compiled report of federal grants, funding awards, and health programs from all agencies the Department oversees; an explanation for how the Department plans to implement President Trump’s directives regarding punishing Portland, Seattle, New York, and Washington, D.C.; and an explanation to whether President Trump’s directives will influence the granting or withholding of coronavirus relief funds. This action follows Senators Murray and Cantwell’s previous condemnation of the Administration’s dubious and potentially illegal scheme to withhold federal funding from Seattle following the summer’s racial justice protests, and their recent letter pressing the Environmental Protection Agency on how the agency plans to implement the White House’s directive to withhold federal funding from cities designated as “anarchist jurisdictions.”

Read full text of the letter HERE or below.

October 28, 2020

 

The Honorable Alex M. Azar

Secretary

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

200 Independence Avenue, SW

Washington, D.C. 20201

 

Dear Secretary Azar,

We write with significant concern regarding a new report[1] that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is considering eliminating millions of dollars in federal funding for critical public health programs, including federal coronavirus relief, amid the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. This is a clear and unconscionable attempt by President Trump and his Administration to choose winners and losers for public health funds based on whether or not the politics of American cities align with the politics of the President.

These potential funding cuts were reportedly compiled in response to President Trump’s September 2, 2020 memorandum entitled Memorandum on Reviewing Funding to State and Local Government Recipients of Federal Funds that Are Permitting Anarchy, Violence, and Destruction in American Cities.”[2] President Trump announced this policy allegedly “. . . to ensure that Federal funds are neither unduly wasted nor spent in a manner that directly violates our Government’s promise to protect life, liberty, and property.”

The policy further states, “it is imperative that the Federal Government review the use of Federal funds by jurisdictions that permit anarchy, violence, and destruction in America’s cities.” In a September 21, 2020 memorandum, the White House directed the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the United States Department of Justice to review federal funding to state and local governments. This memorandum specifically targets Portland, Oregon; New York City, New York; and Seattle, Washington. The White House later added Washington, D.C. to the list.

Tying federal funds for local public health efforts to an arbitrary definition of “anarchist jurisdictions” is of questionable legality and an appalling abuse of power—particularly in the midst of a deadly pandemic and economic recession. According to a report, HHS has identified numerous public health programs and funding mechanisms for potential cuts, including those related to HIV treatment, the opioid crisis, addiction and recovery services, lung disease, hearing screenings for newborns, nutrition and mental health for the elderly, hospital preparedness, child support enforcement, care for COVID-19 patients at community and migrant health centers, and more. Any arbitrary funding cuts to these programs would have detrimental effects on the vulnerable communities they serve, as well as negatively impact the delivery of crucial health care services during a historic crisis this Administration has utterly failed to mitigate. Additionally, these cuts could further exacerbate the health inequities already made worse by this pandemic.

Due to the grave implications of such decisions, we request the following information and responses to questions from your Department:

1.         A copy of the reported list HHS compiled identifying the federal grants, funding awards, and health programs from all agencies the Department oversees.

2.         An explanation for how HHS plans to implement the President’s memorandum in regard to funding decisions for public health programs.

3.         Will the President’s September 2, 2020 memorandum influence any HHS decisions regarding the granting or withholding of coronavirus relief funds to the above-named cities?

We respectfully request this information within fourteen days of receipt of this letter.

Sincerely,