The House of Representatives pushed through a $350 million appropriation for desperately-needed federal funding for state and local government public health organizations.
This funding will help combat many of the cuts government public health labs have had to make during the current recession. A recent APHL survey found that in 2008 alone, labs laid off or left unfilled almost 430 full-time positions, and expected to see another 230 positions empty in 2009. This proposed budget appropriation will go a long way to restoring vital lab capacity—it is critically important that labs retain and reclaim their highly trained workforce.
Despite severe workforce gaps, in the past few weeks, government labs still managed to test thousands of samples and keep the H1N1 outbreak just that—an outbreak—and not a pandemic. However, we’re not out of the woods yet. While things have certainly quieted down in the media, the H1N1 outbreak underscores the need to strengthen public health surveillance and detection of any novel flu strains that may appear.
Yet, that proposed $350 million in funding may still die—unless the Senate acts quickly and decisively. As it stands now, the full Senate will not begin actively debating the proposed appropriation until next week. If the Senate does not match the House with this funding, public health infrastructure will continue to erode in the wake of continued budget cuts.
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