Federal Agencies and the Impact of Administrators on the Latinx Community

Appointments include the heads of key federal agencies.

Editor’s note: Latin Business Today shares perspectives from various pints of view, The opinions expressed are solely those of Latina Commission Co-Chair [1]

When a President takes office, they are responsible for filling more than 4,000 positions.[2]These appointments include the heads of key federal agencies like the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), the U.S. Department of Education (ED), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Agency leadership has significant authority to develop and implement policy through rulemaking, enforcement and compliance, data collection and reporting, and through the administration of programs that directly affect the Latinx population.

Many of the current administration’s appointments have come under scrutiny – questioned as to their qualifications and challenged regarding their public opposition to the mission of the agency they were appointed to run. For example, in June 2018, Diane Foley was appointed as the Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of Population Affairs under HHS, the agency responsible for managing Title X, a program providing family planning and related health services. Title X serves more than 4 million, primarily low-income people, of which 32 percent are Hispanic.[3]Foley, the former President and CEO of Life Network, a Christian organization, has often expressed ideas about contraception and abortion that are contrary to scientific and medical evidence.[4]

Under Foley’s leadership, the new regulations would block the availability of Title X funds to a portion of grantees, redirect funds to faith-based organizations,[5]and eliminate the requirement that providers offer information about the complete range of available reproductive healthcare. These changes will shrink the network of participating healthcare providers and have major repercussions for women across the country that rely on them, not only for contraception and abortion, but for important routine healthcare like mammograms and cervical cancer screenings.[6]

In addition to rerouting funding, HHS has vastly expanded religious exemptions. In November 2018, the administration finalized regulations that significantly broaden exemptions to the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraceptive coverage requirement. More recently, the Administration for Children and Family Services under HHS, granted an exemption from their own religious nondiscrimination requirement to a federally funded foster care agency in South Carolina. In practice, the adoption agency now has the power to refuse potential parents based on their faith or sexual orientation. Nationally, Hispanic children make up 21percentof the foster care population and these types of exemptions could have an impact on whether minors are placed with parents who mirror or support their values.

Like HHS, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has undergone striking shifts in leadership and policy over the past two years. In July 2018, Scott Pruitt, the EPA administrator resigned in the face of numerous investigations.[7]Andrew Wheeler, the acting administrator and the nominee to replace Pruitt, is a former coal industry lobbyist who has been criticized for challenging the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards that limits emissions.[8]As outlined in in a report coauthored by the National Hispanic Medical Association, poverty levels and relatively lower rates of health insurance increase the threats from air pollution on Latinx communities.[9]Relaxed standards would be extremely concerning for those working in construction and extraction industries, 32.3 percent of whom are Latinx.[10]Additionally, 1.81 million Latinx live within half a mile of oil and gas facilities.[11]

As we’ve seen at HHS and the EPA, the Department of Education, led by Secretary Betsy Devos has also set an agenda that would  roll-back the prior administration’s policies.[12]Civil rights advocates have raised concerns about DeVos’ commitment to enforcing protections for minority, LGBT and disabled students, which is particularly concerning for Latinx students who will make up 29 percent of the U.S. public school students by 2025.[13]Secretary Devos proposed a new rule that is likely to make it more difficult for defrauded students to seek debt relief,[14]and according to the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, middle class minorities are hurt most by student loan delinquency.[15]

Under the current administration, the appointments, structure, and rule-making processes of federal agencies have been unpredictable at best. Agencies like those discussed above are suffering from reduced staffing, and a mandate to deregulate. The proposals to reorganize key agencies, and an unprecedented use of administrative law to rewrite the purpose and effectiveness of critical governmental bodies is deeply concerning, and it is essential that legal leaders take note. It is critical that the Hispanic community not only look at the federal agencies impacting immigration but also the agencies that are responsible for the health, environment, education, and well-being of the Latinx community in the United States.

By Aracely Muñoz, 2018-19 Latina Commission Co-Chair [1]

[1]The author would like to acknowledge and thank Nicole Tuszynski, Senior Manager for the Lawyers Network, Center for Reproductive Rights for her contributions to this article.

[2]Jan Diehm et al., Tracking Trump’s Nominations, CNN Politics(2017), https://www.cnn.com‌/interactive/2017/‌politics/trump-nominations/ (last visited Jan 28, 2019).

[3]Title X: An Essential Health Care Program for Latinxs, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (2018), http://latinainstitute.org/sites‌/default/files/NLIRH_TitleX_FactSheet18_Eng_R3.pdf (last visited Jan 28, ‌ 2019).

[4]Christina Cauterucci, Trump Adds Another Anti-Science, Anti-Choice Woman to Oversee Critical Health Programs, Slate (June 1, 2018), https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2018/06/trump-has-put-a-slew-of-anti-science-anti-choice-women-in-charge-of-critical-health-programs.html

[5]Laurie Sobel et al., Proposed Changes to Title X: Implications for Women and Family Planning Providers,Henry J Kaiser Family Foundation (Nov. 21, 2018), https://www.kff.org/womens-health-policy/issue-brief/proposed-changes-to-title-x-implications-for-women-and-family-planning-providers/

[6]Id.

[7]Jonathan Ellis, Scott Pruitt Resigns: A Guide to Our Coverage, The New York Times (July 5, 2018),‌https://www.nytimes.com‌/2018/07/05/climate/scott-pruitt-resigns.htm‌l?module=inline (last visited Jan 28, 2019).

[8]Dominique Browning, This Coal Lobbyist Should Not Run the E.P.A.,The New York Times (Jan. 14, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/14/opinion/epa-trump-andrew-‌wheeler.html?fbclid=IwAR0qgOygY9zIWV1vYaR‌Ykjexv8-4foWNyOgKrp2SxBvXpGw‌RK3e3WmHx2iU

[9]Lesley Fleischman et al., Latino Communities at Risk the Impact of Air Pollution from the Oil and Gas Industry,Clean Air Task Force (Sept. 2016), https://www.catf.us/wp-‌content/uploads/2016/09/‌CATF_Pub_Latino‌CommunitiesAtRisk‌.pdf (last visited Jan 28, 2019).

[10]Hispanics and Latinos in industries and occupations, Bureau of Labor Statistics (Oct. 9, 2015), https://www‌.bls.gov/‌opub/ted/2015/hispanics-and-‌latinos-in-industries-and-occupations.htm

[11]Fleischman, supra note 9, at 2.

[12]Katie Reilly, The Biggest Controversies from Betsy DeVos’ First Year,Time (Dec. 14, 2017), http://time.‌com/‌5053007/betsy‌-devos-education-secretary-2017-controversies/

[13]Status Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups, National Center for Education Statistics (July 2017), visited Jan 28, 2019).

[14]Katie Lobosco, New Betsy DeVos Rule Would Limit Loan Relief for Defrauded Students, CNN Politics (July 26, 2018), https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/26/politics/betsy-devos-student-loan-relief/index.html

[15]David Hudson, Explore the link between race and student debt—and read our new report on inequality and innovation, Washington Center for Equitable Growth (Feb. 17, 2016),https://equitablegrowth.org/mapping-student-debt-race-inequality-innovation/