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HHS chief: Part of $2T in 2023 budget would prepare for future pandemics

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HHS chief: Part of $2T in 2023 budget would prepare for future pandemics
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra follows other top government officials who have testified in Congress about their departments' fiscal needs for 2023. File Photo by Al Drago/UPI | License Photo

March 31 (UPI) -- The Biden administration is continuing to prepare for life after the COVID-19 pandemic while building a framework to handle the next variant and even the next potential pandemic, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra told the House Appropriation Committee on Thursday.

Becerra appeared before the committee to talk about the $2 trillion the administration has dedicated to his department within the proposed $5.8 trillion budget.

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Becerra said in his opening statement that the HHS has procured millions of COVID-19 treatment courses for Americans, and is supporting Biden's pledge to provide 1 billion tests to American households for free.

"Testing capacity has dramatically increased, and we've supplied free, high-quality masks to the American people," Becerra said. "HHS has invested $250 million in U.S.-based manufacturing of personal protective equipment and $950 million in manufacturing the supplies and equipment needed for vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostic tests to strengthen the public health supply chain.

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"As the president has said, it is critical to get Americans back to our more normal routines, while still protecting people from COVID-19, preparing for new variants, and preventing economic and educational shutdowns."

Becerra said addressing healthcare disparities among minorities was important to address in the budget. He said those disparities were exposed during the coronavirus pandemic, during which ethnic minorities and the poor were affected the most by the virus's spread.

"Advancing equity is at the core of the budget," Becerra said. "HHS works to close the gaps in access to healthcare and human services to advance equitable outcomes for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality."

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He said enough was not being done "to provide equitable preventive measures, services and treatment options in every community -- and COVID has only made this disparity worse."

In Biden's budget for the HHS is $1.7 trillion in mandatory HHS funding for fiscal 2023. All presidents' budgets are merely requests, and it's up to Congress to decide how much to spend and where to put the money.

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Becerra was the latest official to appear in Congress this week to expound on the president's budget, which is customary after all presidents lay out their fiscal requests for the coming year.

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"Budgets are about more than dollars. They're about values. And the president's budget is a reflection of our values as a nation," Becerra said in a statement earlier this week.

"From addressing health disparities to strengthening behavioral health to investing in our children, this budget will help turn hardship into hope for millions of families. And it will ensure we can fulfill our department's crucial mission of improving the health and well-being of the American people."

President Biden's budget also requests money to make a cosmetic change -- removing the word "abuse" from federal agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services. Image courtesy Health and Human Services Dept.

For the opioid crisis, the HHS would allocate more than $10 billion for discretionary funding for programs that address addiction and overdose-related activities.

Also, money from Biden's budget would go toward removing the word "abuse" from the official names of federal agencies to remove harmful stigmas and stereotypes. For example, it would change the National Institute on Drug Abuse to the National Institute on Drugs and Addiction. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism would be rebranded as the National Institute on Alcohol Effects and Alcohol-Associated Disorders.

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Jared Bernstein (R), member of the Council of Economic Advisers, joined by Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, speaks during a news conference in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room on Friday. Photo by Oliver Contreras/UPI | License Photo

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