Media reports earlier this month that the Trump administration was planning to transfer millions of dollars in funds from the Ryan White AIDS program to help pay for the resettlement of thousands of refugee children, some of whom were separated from their parents, were misleading, according to a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The spokesperson, Elizabeth Senerchia, told the Washington Blade that last year HHS notified Congress that it intended to transfer “leftover” funds in fiscal year 2016 from the Ryan White program to HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement.
“These funds were unused and unobligated and had no impact on operation of the Ryan White program or future scheduled distribution of funds for recipients for FY 2018,” Senerchia said.
Carl Schmid, deputy executive director of the AIDS Institute, a national AIDS advocacy organization, said he agreed that the transfer of unused funds would not impact any of the Ryan White program’s funding for medical care and other services for people with HIV who are uninsured or underinsured and cannot afford to pay for life-saving HIV medication.
“Someone made a big deal out of a not so big story,” Schmid said.
He said news of the transfer of the unused funds, which alarmed some AIDS activists until the full details became known, bring to light a longstanding problem associated with the Ryan White program that can’t be blamed on the federal government. Schmid and officials with other AIDS organizations have long expressed concern that cities and states that apply for and are allocated millions of dollars in funds from the Ryan White program sometimes are unable to spend all of the funds within a given fiscal year, even though the funds are needed to provide local AIDS-related services.
Activists have said the inability to spend the funds is sometimes due to bureaucratic problems within state and city health departments or other agencies in charge of state and local AIDS programs.
In the past, HHS has said unspent funds could be allocated for other programs within the department.
“HHS routinely and proactively discusses funding options for all its programs within the authority granted to us by the Congress,” Senerchia told the Blade in a statement. “HHS has limited authority to shift funding between accounts or between programs whose funding levels are specified in law,” she said. “In FY 2017, this authority was used to increase funding for the Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) program.”
Politico, one of the first media outlets to report that HHS planned to transfer Ryan White funds for the refugee children program, did not initially report that the money was from unspent funds allocated in 2016. It reported that the funds to be transferred totaled $17 million.
Senerchia said HHS would not disclose the amount of the transferred funds. She also said that HHS has a policy of not disclosing which cities and states fail to spend their full allotment of Ryan White Funds.