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H.R. 1, Budget Cuts and Boasting

posted on Mon, Mar 28 2011 3:32 pm by Kathleen Dachille

Budget Cuts
One of the most endearing traits of public health professionals is their humility. Whether it is a local health department employee who spent his weekend weeding in the community garden or a high-level state official who works through the night determining the best way to allocate the newest flu vaccine in the wake of an outbreak, public health professionals are dedicated and determined to protect and improve the community’s health. They do so with little resource and even less recognition. Current threats to funding for public health programs push against this inherent humility. In response, it is imperative that unassuming, modest public health professionals be proud and loud about their accomplishments and the continuing need for their work. We must incite the community whose needs are always foremost in the development of our programs, so that they understand the devastating impact of the draconian budget cuts that threaten the public health.

On February 19, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1, reducing funding to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) by more than $1.3 billion and cutting the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by about 30 percent. Cuts to the CDC budget will be keenly felt in environmental health and chronic disease programs. For example, the budget reduction will profoundly impact core environmental health capacity and training for state and local health departments and could impair the CDC’s ability to respond to a radiological disaster. Severe cuts to the CDC’s programs to prevent and respond to foodborne and waterborne illnesses strike at the core of public health, as safe food and water are essential to healthy living. And cuts on the chronic disease side will eliminate some cancer screening and prevention programs, like the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program.

The EPA will suffer cuts that will threaten public health as well. H.R. 1 prevents the agency from enforcing air pollution standards designed to significantly reduce the amount of mercury in our air. The bill also prevents the EPA from imposing restrictions on certain emissions, including methane; from maintaining the greenhouse gas registry; and from implementing certain provisions of the Clean Water Act.

The EPA budget cuts, coupled with the cuts to the CDC, genuinely threaten the public health. Yet these cuts that allegedly improve the country’s fiscal health will likely lead to worse economic conditions in the short and long term, leading to health department layoffs now and increased health care costs later. Those medical costs may continue to bankrupt individuals, as H.R. 1 also interferes with implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by, among other things, prohibiting the use of federal funds to pay salaries of employees of the Department of Health and Human Services working to implement the ACA.

There is still time to fight these cuts and we hope those with the power and capability to do so are successful in the fight. But for our short term and long term survival, public health professionals must shed a little light on themselves and their work. Be proud and be loud. Let policy-makers and potential funders know about your work. Get to know your local media outlets and invite them to your community events. Let them see who you are and what you do. You can still be humble—give credit to the policy-makers who funded your program (wink)—but get the word out about the impact of your work so that you can continue to make those important contributions to the public health. Because we all know: A penny of prevention is worth a dollar of cure.

This information was developed by Kathleen Dachille, director of the Network for Public Health Law – Eastern Region.

The Network for Public Health Law provides information and technical assistance on issues related to public health. The legal information and assistance provided in this document does not constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice, readers should consult a lawyer in their state.
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