Shaheen: Private Flights for HHS Secretary Send Taxpayers 'Wrong Message'
Both New Hampshire US Senators are criticizing Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price for reportedly taking private jets around the country for official government business.
Late Tuesday night, Politico reported that Price took five chartered flights last week, including a trip to a New Hampshire community center. Politico is reporting that those flights could be costing taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars more than commercial travel, though HHS did not respond to questions from the news site about who paid for the flights.
Price visited Goodwin Community Health center in Somersworth, NH last week to award 10 New Hampshire health centers more than $1.7 million in federal grants for substance abuse and mental health services. The Secretary said the funding was part of the Trump administration’s strategy to fight the opioid epidemic.
According to Politico, Price arrived in Portsmouth on a chartered flight from Maine, and then took a second private flight back to Washington, D.C., less than three hours later.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen told NHPR she wants to know who foot the bill for those flights.
“We could have hired a person, we could have paid for treatment, there are a lot of things that could have been done with that money to address the illness that he was here to talk about. And it’s unfortunate that the money instead went to get him a nicer flight,” Shaheen said.
Shaheen said she had never heard of past or current cabinet secretaries taking private jets for official business, and said it was the “wrong message to be sending.”
“It reinforces the concern that taxpayers have about public officials being there not to serve the public but for their own interests, and so I think that’s very disappointing - especially for the secretary of a department like Health and Human Services.”
Meanwhile, her Democratic counterpart Maggie Hassan seemed to be convinced that Price is using taxpayer dollars for this travel. In a statement, she criticized Price for breaking with the department precedent for travel, and called for an investigation into “this gross misuse of taxpayer dollars.”
Both Senators also took the opportunity to take a swipe at Republican efforts to repeal and replace the Obama-era healthcare bill.
In a statement, an HHS spokesperson noted Secretary Price’s “incredibly demanding schedule full of 13+ hour days” and said that “the travel department continues to check every possible source for travel needs including commercial, but commercial travel is not always feasible.”