(Washington, DC, July 11, 2023) Today the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a proposed new rule modifying nondiscrimination protections for beneficiaries of and participants in services and programs funded by HHS grants.
On its way out of office, the Trump administration issued a final rule that left many potential beneficiaries and participants, including some of the most vulnerable members of our society, exposed to unlawful discrimination on the basis of religion, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity in a wide array of grant-funded programming, including programs for seniors and youth experiencing homelessness and HIV prevention programs. The Trump-era rule replaced a uniform nondiscrimination mandate meant to ensure people are safe and treated equitably when accessing critical, often lifesaving, government-funded services. In February 2021, a federal court order stayed implementation of the Trump Administration's rule, and in November 2022, the Biden administration terminated it altogether, followed by today's proposed rule.
"HHS grant funding supports social services that are designed to protect the health and welfare of everyone. And the federal government should not tolerate discrimination within them. Unfortunately, today's rulemaking fails to reset nondiscrimination protections in HHS grant programs towards ensuring that LGBTQ+ and other vulnerable beneficiaries of these programs will not face discrimination on the government's dime," said Kristine Kippins, Deputy Legal Director for Policy, Lambda Legal. "Rather, the administration drew lines that limit who is protected from discrimination in grant-funded programs in ways that will invite discrimination against LGBTQ+ people and other vulnerable communities in some grant-funded social service programming. We are concerned the proposed rule will not protect vulnerable peoplefrom young people in foster care to seniors in congregate careseeking HHS-funded services from discrimination on account of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Coupled with the decision to not enforce the Obama-era uniform nondiscrimination mandate, we are disappointed with today's rulemaking."
The $500 billion a year HHS federal grants program funds programs that provide important health and welfare services to millions of people, including children in foster care and their families, youth experiencing homelessness, low-income families, people living with HIV, refugees, victims of trafficking, and older people. The discrimination permitted by the notice of non-enforcement harms beneficiaries, imposes additional barriers to service, causes significant economic costs, undermines HHS's mission to enhance the health and well-being of all Americans, and results in worse outcomes in HHS programs.
Lambda Legal challenged the Trump administration HHS grants rule change, in Facing Foster Care in Alaska v. HHS, filed in February 2021 on behalf of four advocacy organizations, and the notice of non-enforcement, in Family Equality v. Azar, filed in March 2020 on behalf of three advocacy organizations. Family Equality v. Azar was filed in response to HHS's November 2019 announcement that it would stop enforcing anti-discrimination protections against federal grantees that deny services to, or otherwise discriminate against, individuals. https://lambdalegal.org/case/family-equality-v-azar/
Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people, and everyone living with HIV through impact litigation, education, and policy work. www.lambdalegal.org