FIRST ON FOX: The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has notified Congress that it will transfer an additional $589 million, some of which comes from funding marked for COVID-19 vaccination efforts, to its program to shelter unaccompanied migrant children who have entered the U.S. at the southern border — part of more than $4 billion that has been diverted to the program this year.

HHS informed Congress that it is diverting $225 million in National Institute of Health (NIH) funding that was part of the December COVID-19 relief bill to the unaccompanied children (UAC) program, as well as $364 million in HHS funding that was passed as part of the American Rescue Plan (ARP), a congressional source told Fox News. Data shared with Fox News confirms that source’s account.

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Of the ARP funding, $187.5 million had been marked for the Centers for Disease Control for “vaccine planning, distribution, monitoring and tracking” and an additional $25 million for “vaccine confidence activities.” Meanwhile $151 million of the diverted funding had been tagged for the “Supply Chain for Vaccines, Therapeutics and Medical Supplies.”

The Biden administration has been facing a surge in migration at the southern border, which quickly turned into a full-blown border crisis with images of migrants packed into facilities across the border. The Biden administration has focused on getting unaccompanied children out of Border Patrol custody and into HHS care — before they are united with sponsors, normally a guardian or parent already in the country.

The number of unaccompanied children coming to the border increased 24% between June and July — with 18,962 encounters in July compared to 15,234 in June. It means Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has been encountering an average of 1,363 a day. There are currently more than 14,000 children and teenagers in HHS custody.

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HHS told Fox News that the amounts being transferred were not planned for any ongoing vaccine activities, and that they therefore no impact on the administration’s vaccination efforts. A spokesperson also said that the Trump administration had left behind an under-resourced UAC program with less than half of the capacity needed, and failed to activate additional bed capacity in 2020 even as numbers of unaccompanied children coming to the border began to increase in the latter half of the year.

“The Unaccompanied Children program has long relied on funding transfers to meet its mission, and this year faces the additional expense of rebuilding a decimated system while taking pandemic-related safety precautions, such as testing and social distancing,” an HHS spokesperson told Fox News. 

“We notified Congress on Aug. 16 of our intent to make additional funds available to the program to cover pandemic-related cost increases and to ensure the continued health and safety of children and staff, and will ensure this transfer – as with prior ones – does not disrupt other HHS activities,” the spokesperson said. “We also continue to call on Congress to invest in long-needed programmatic reforms to decrease the program’s long-standing reliance on funding transfers and reduce the time it takes to unify children with families.”

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The agency also noted that it had needed additional funding for the program in 2019, when the Trump administration had sought $3 billion in extra funding during that year’s border crisis among other similar transfers to the program, and that pandemic-related precautions added at least an extra $2 billion in costs to the program..

The latest transfer is one of a number that have taken place in recent months as the U.S. tries to handle the crisis at the border.

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According to the data provided to Fox News, $1.2 billion was transferred to the program in April, including $850 million from the December relief supplemental. In May, $850 million was moved from ARP funding designated for testing, tracing and COVID-19 mitigation.

In June there was $846.5 million transferred from ARP funding, and in July an additional $860 million was transferred from the COVID supplemental. It means that the total transferred to the UAC program this year is $4.43 billion by HHS. 

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The administration has recognized that the crisis at the border is a serious challenge, while generally holding off on calling it a crisis. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has said that the administration’s plan to solve the crisis — which includes a focus on root causes and opening legal asylum pathways — will work but will take time.

“The extent of the challenge should not be understated, but nor should our ability to meet it,” he said this month.

More recently, the administration has focused more on deportations — including extending Title 42 public health protections and flying migrants deeper into the interior who have been turned away via those protections.

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