Committee Chairs to Secretary Azar: Abandon Proposal to Undermine Civil Rights Protections Under Federal Programs

Dec 20, 2019
Press Release
“This proposed rule is misguided with potentially dangerous consequences for the Americans we represent and the programs our Committees oversee.”

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-MA), Education and Labor Committee Chairman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-VA), Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ),  and Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) sent a letter to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar asking the Department to abandon its proposal to weaken civil rights protections for Americans served by a wide array of federally funded health and social services programs administered by HHS. 
 
In November, HHS released a proposed rule – the Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for HHS Awards – that continued the Trump Administration’s efforts to erode nondiscrimination protections. In the letter, the chairs, whose Committees have legislative and oversight responsibilities for HHS programs, expressed concern that the proposal severely undermines efforts by Congress and previous administrations to eradicate discrimination in HHS-funded programs.

The chairs wrote that the Department is signaling its intent to further erode civil rights protections by invoking the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). They warn that allowing a religious exemption – even where there are expressly stated nondiscrimination provisions—is a misuse of RFRA that runs contrary to its original purpose to protect sincerely held religious beliefs of religious minorities. 

The chairs also noted that the Department’s proposal would create an uneven patchwork of civil rights protections across HHS programs. While programs such as Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and Head Start include explicit nondiscrimination protections, many HHS programs rely on the regulatory framework that would be weakened under the Department’s proposal. 

“This proposed rule is misguided with potentially dangerous consequences for the Americans we represent and the programs our Committees oversee,” the Chairs wrote. “It will eviscerate uniform nondiscrimination protections that apply to all HHS programs and instead create different standards of protection against discrimination for beneficiaries and participants within different HHS programs. We urge HHS to immediately withdraw the proposed rule’s provisions to erode important, uniform nondiscrimination standards for HHS programs.”

Read the full text of the letter to Secretary Azar here

###