Durbin Blasts Republican Budget Cuts, Questions National Institutes Of Health About Treating Trauma, Mental Illness In Youth

In today’s Appropriations subcommittee hearing, Durbin decried Republican plans to slash funding for NIH, called for robust funding for medical research

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, today participated in a subcommittee hearing entitled “A Review of the President’s FY 2024 Funding Request and Budget Justification for the National Institutes of Health (NIH).”  During the hearing, Durbin, a longtime advocate of robust medical research funding, expressed his disapproval of House Republicans’ proposal to dramatically slash funding for NIH.  By one estimate, the House-passed Default on America Act would decrease funding for NIH by more than 20 percent—slashing thousands of grants, delaying treatments and cures, and shuttering labs. 

“I’ve been proud of this subcommittee and what it’s achieved in terms of funding for NIH research.  The two percent figure sent to us by the [Biden] Administration is a true disappointment, and I’m going to tell the President as much.  But the idea that the Republicans have suggested in the House that a 20, 25 percent cut in NIH funding is scandalous,” Durbin said. 

Further, Durbin questioned one of the witnesses, Director of National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Dr. Joshua Gordon, about the necessity of funding research programs that address the youth mental health crisis.

“When we look at the scourge of mental illness in this country, particularly as it affects young people now in extraordinary numbers and percentages, could you give me some kind of point of reference as to how much is being invested in mental health and mental illness as opposed to physical illness?” asked Durbin.  

Dr. Gordon replied that while NIMH’s budget is roughly $2 billion, it comes down to ensuring that funding is reaching people who need it.  Dr. Gordon emphasized that NIMH is focused on building up its research in the areas of precision psychiatry, which aims to better match patients with appropriate treatment, and youth mental health, including implementing suicide prevention programs and early detection treatments.

Durbin asked about how NIH and NIMH can support youth who have been impacted by gun violence in their communities or who have experienced other Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).  Durbin spoke about his visit to Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, where he met with youth and administrators at the center’s school.  Urging the public health leaders to review his bipartisan RISE from Trauma Act that addresses ACEs, Durbin asked about what additional steps can be taken to treat youth trauma exposure.

“Many of the cities across America faces what Chicago faces with gun violence, particularly for young people.  I went to the Cook County juvenile facility where teenagers are being held waiting for trial, many of them accused of murder… They’ve created a high school in the building for these teenagers... When I ask the counselors, what do you find when you sit down and talk to these young people who are on trial for murder and accused of gun violence?  They say they find the full [array] of mental illness, but the one recurring theme is trauma,” Durbin said.  “They’ve been exposed to trauma in their lives, and it really changes the way that they look at the world.  Senator Capito and I have a bill on this issue – looking at trauma, ACEs.” 

“It just seems to me that when we talk about youth mental illness, this is the most obvious, front-line challenge that we face.  What should we be doing now, that we’re not doing, when it comes to trauma exposure?” Durbin asked.     

Dr. Gordon affirmed that trauma can often be found at the root of mental illness.  He emphasized that NIMH needs to support youth in identifying and treating trauma as it has shown that successful navigation of trauma can lead to resilience to a range of mental health illnesses later in life.  In closing his response, Dr. Gordon agreed that NIMH should turn its attention to implementing programs that would build resiliency in youth.  

Video of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here. 

Audio of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s question in Committee is available here for TV stations.