Emerging Issues Added to the Public Health Appropriations Mix
By Brent Ewing, MHS
Director, Public Policy & Government Affairs Team, AMCHP
Every winter, AMCHP gears up our advocacy machine to be prepared to push for the highest possible appropriation for the Title V Maternal and Child Health Services Block Grant and other critical MCH programs. The release of the President's budget proposal, traditionally on the first Monday in February, marks the official opening of "Appropriations Season" in Washington. This is followed up by every advocate in town scrambling to make their pitch to all key policymakers before bills begin to be drafted.
This year, the President's budget included two new public health appropriations requests that have changed the landscape a bit for this scramble. The first is to address opioid and heroin abuse and the second is to support preparedness and response to the Zika virus. A third emerging issue has also surfaced on Capitol Hill in this cycle – responding to the lead poisoning crisis both in Flint, Michigan and possibly beyond.
Many Americans are learning the tragic new reality that there are now more deaths from drug overdoses than motor vehicle collisions. AMCHP is particularly concerned about the devastating impact caused by misuse of opiates during pregnancy, which often results in the drug withdrawal syndrome in newborns called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). In 2012, an estimated 21,732 infants were born with NAS —equivalent to one baby suffering from opiate withdrawal born every 25 minutes. This Administration's proposed $1.1 billion funding will boost efforts to help individuals with an opioid use disorder seek treatment, successfully complete treatment, and sustain recovery. We are joining with partners to call on Congress to find common ground to address this epidemic and strengthen both prevention and treatment efforts. Additional details on this proposed funding are available here.
As this issue goes to press, AMCHP leaders are participating in the CDC Zika Action Plan (ZAP) Summit and working on cutting edge strategies to support both preparedness and response. AMCHP therefore also strongly supports the Administration's proposed $1.9 billion in emergency funding to enhance ongoing efforts to prepare for and respond to the Zika virus, a virus primarily spread by mosquitoes that has recently been linked to birth defects and other concerning health outcomes.
We've recently joined with a March of Dimes coalition to increase urgent calls for action in Congress to work in a bipartisan manner to ensure states and communities have the resources to take every appropriate measure to protect the American people and particularly women of reproductive age. Additional details on this proposed funding are available here.
While the President's budget did not include any new proposed funding to address the lead poisoning crisis revealed in Flint, Michigan, AMCHP has recently supported efforts led by the National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition asking Congress to support $35 million for CDC's Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention program, which would allow the program to expand its surveillance of childhood lead poisoning nationally and $230 million for HUD's Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes, including $35 million for the Healthy Homes program and $6 million for the Lead Technical Studies Grant Program. A copy of this sign on letter is available here.
Even though the President asked for expedited consideration of the Zika funding in what is known as a supplemental request, Congress to date has not acted on any of the above requests. The biggest sticking point is the question of where the money will come from and if other programs should either be cut or have funds redirected to support these new efforts. AMCHP is joining with many others in the public health community to share the message that weakening one part of the public health system to (temporarily) bolster another is not wise.
These issues were further discussed at the 2016 AMCHP Annual Conference. If you were unable to attend, please stay tuned to the usual AMCHP channels for updates as this year's appropriations cycle unfolds.