The Biden administration said Wednesday that its plan to fund crack "smoking kits" will not include glass pipes.
The Department of Health and Human Services is "focused on using our resources smartly to reduce harm and save lives," Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a Wednesday afternoon statement. "Accordingly, no federal funding will be used directly or through subsequent reimbursement of grantees to put pipes in safe smoking kits."
The announcement comes in response to a Monday Washington Free Beacon report that HHS is set to spend $30 million on a "harm reduction" grant program that would reimburse local governments that provide "smoking kits" for users of crack cocaine. Existing smoking kit programs in cities such as Annapolis, Md., New Haven, Conn., San Francisco, and Seattle all include smoking pipes.
An HHS spokesman initially confirmed to the Free Beacon that the kits provided through the grant program were designed to smoke crack cocaine, crystal methamphetamine, as well as "any illicit substance."
After publication of a report on the funding, HHS backtracked in a Tuesday statement that labeled the story "blatant misinformation." When asked to explain what part of the story was incorrect, a spokesman said the story is "misleading and misinformed" but declined to provide any information to refute the report.
After Becerra's Wednesday statement, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said crack pipes were "never a part of the kit." The program, however, does not explicitly state what is included in any funded kit. In fact, an HHS spokesman told the Free Beacon that it "does not specify the kits' elements" but "only the parameters."
The stated parameters in the government grant are any "equipment and supplies" that "enhance harm reduction efforts," and "smoking kits" are included as eligible equipment. HHS initially defended funding smoking kits.
"Unsafe smoking practices can lead to open sores, burns and cuts on the lips, and can increase the risk of infection among people who smoke drugs," said agency spokesman Chris Garrett. "Safe smoking kits have been identified to reduce the spread of disease."
Republican senator Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.) said Wednesday she would put a hold on funding for the program until it was modified to ban spending on drug paraphernalia. She said the White House denials mean nothing given the language in the government funding document remain unchanged.
"U.S. taxpayer dollars should not be used to fund vending machines for crack pipes," Blackburn said. "Today’s claims by White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki and Secretary Becerra mean nothing given that the HHS-approved FY 2022 Harm Reduction Program Grant specifically allows for government-funded smoking kits."
"We will not allow this administration to continue lying to the American people," she said.
In addition to smoking kits, the grant provides funds for syringes, fentanyl strips, vaccinations, disease screenings, and condoms. Funding for the program is provided through the Democrats' 2021 pandemic relief plan, the American Rescue Plan.