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HHS Secretary Details Administration’s Plans

Over the past two weeks, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson has testified before several congressional committees detailing the Bush Administration’s budget plans for the Department of Health and Human Services. Sec. Thompson appeared before the Senate Budget Committee on March 6, the House Budget Committee on March 7, and the House Ways and Means Committee on March 14.

Stating that a “top priority for this Department is ensuring that the NIH continues to have the resources necessary,” Sec. Thompson stated that the President has proposed a $2.75 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in FY2002, the largest increase ever. “This funding level will enable NIH to support the highest level of total research grants in the agency’s history,” he stated.

Sec. Thompson also detailed the President’s Medicare prescription drug proposal, Immediate Helping Hand (IHH). Under the IHH, individuals with incomes up to $11,600 and married couples with incomes up to $15,700, who are not eligible for Medicaid or a comprehensive private retiree benefit, would pay no premium and no more than a nominal charge for prescriptions. Additionally, individuals with incomes up to $15,000 and married couples with incomes of up to $20,300 would receive subsidies for at least half of the premium.

“The President’s proposal would provide immediate coverage for up to 9.5 million beneficiaries while we work to enact broader Medicare reform,” stated Sec. Thompson. The IHH would sunset in four years or when comprehensive Medicare reform is implemented. To that end, the President has proposed to spend $153 billion over ten years on Medicare modernization and a prescription drug benefit.

Additionally, the President has proposed to increase the number of community health centers by 1,200 by FY2006. In an effort to meet that goal, funding for community health centers would be increased by $124 million in FY2002 under the President’s budget proposal.

Discussing the importance of substance abuse treatment, Sec. Thompson stated, “We propose to increase funding for substance abuse treatment by $100 million. These funds will be used to increase the Substance Abuse Block Grant, the primary vehicle for funding state substance abuse efforts, and to increase the number of Targeted Capacity Expansion grants, which seek to address the treatment gap by supporting strategic and rapid responses to emerging areas of need, including grants to organizations that provide residential treatment to teenagers.”

Turning to child care, Sec. Thompson stated, “One of the most important things that we as a government can do to help working families is to assist them in obtaining high-quality child care.” The President has proposed $400 million for After School Certificates, a program that would be run within the Child Care and Development Block Grant. “This would help low-income working parents to pay for the costs of after-school care for their children,” stated Sec. Thompson, adding: “We expect these after-school activities to also have a strong educational component, helping children to achieve success in school.”

Sec. Thompson also detailed efforts to “help protect our most vulnerable and at-risk children and to help them live safe and productive lives.” The administration has proposed a $200 million increase for the Promoting Safe and Stable Families program. The additional funds would be used to help keep children with their biological parents or place them with adoptive parents if they cannot be reunited with their biological parents. The administration also has proposed an additional $60 million for the Independent Living Program. The increase would be used to provide vouchers to youths aging out of foster care to obtain education and training.

Sec. Thompson also highlighted a new Maternity Group Homes program, which would “support state efforts to work with organizations that operate community-based, adult-supervised group homes for teenage mothers and their children as well as to provide certificates to young mothers to obtain supportive services.” The administration has proposed $33 million for the program.

Noting that “helping young mothers is an important part of our program to assist America’s families,” Sec. Thompson added, “It is also important that we recognize the critical role that fathers play in the lives of their families.” As such, the administration has proposed $64 million for a responsible fatherhood initiative. Funding for the initiative would be used “to support programs that help low-income and unemployed fathers and their families avoid dependence on welfare, and to fund programs that promote successful parenting and marriage.”

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