The House Ways and Means Budget proposal for FY15, released Wednesday, April 9, provides maintenance funding for the Department of Public Health (DPH). The budget provides a modest overall increase from FY14 and would maintain essential investments in health infrastructure that were made in last year’s budget. Despite these increases, however, funding levels remain well below historic levels.
THE GOOD NEWS
Last year’s investments in critical public health infrastructure are maintained or increased in the House Ways and Means proposal.
Environmental Health Services – which funds food protection, the childhood lead program, indoor air quality, and swimming beach inspections, among other programs – received funding to maintain last year’s increase of $1.1 million.
The Board of Registration in Pharmacy received maintenance funding as well and would maintain increased inspectional capacity.
Health Care Quality and Improvement received a much-needed $3.8 million increase from FY14 in order to advance the Massachusetts prescription drug monitoring program in response to the epidemic of opiate overdoses.
Substance Abuse Services received increased funding in order to address the state’s growing opiate epidemic. The main substance abuse line item that supports programming and operations at the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services (BSAS) received a $5.4m increase. This will allow BSAS to maintain its current programs while offering new services, such as an accreditation and training program for alcohol and drug-free housing and more support for clients in the courtroom. The budget proposal also included a new line item, funded at $815,000, to create Naloxone Distribution Programs for First Responders in communities with high rates of overdose.
THE MIXED NEWS
An increase of $1.5m is provided for the State Laboratory and Communicable Disease Control will allow for a capital feasibility study to be conducted, but needed funding is not provided for crucial quality assurance and IT upgrades. The programs funded under this account are vital to public health and safety, as they provide for testing of samples for infectious disease, food and insect-borne diseases, lead poisoning, and bioterror agents; surveillance of disease reporting by physicians, hospitals, and laboratories; and investigations in response to disease outbreaks.
THE BAD NEWS
Smoking Prevention and Cessation Programs were cut by 2.6% and are still vastly underfunded compared to FY09 levels, when funding was 70% higher.
Reductions are proposed for both Youth at Risk Grants ($1.8m) and the Youth Violence Prevention Program ($500,000) at DPH. These programs fund grants to youth programs for prevention programs on substance abuse, bullying, suicide, and teen pregnancy prevention.
The Critical Operations and Essential Services line item is of particular concern. The House Ways and Means budget increases funding for this item modestly, but not enough to cover the increased cost of services, which would mean an actual cut of $773,000 and the loss of 8-10 FTEs. This line item supports critical services and staff across DPH, including emergency preparedness, environmental health assessments, implementation and enforcement of regulations, reducing disparities in health care, and monitoring and inspections of nursing homes, food safety, and water quality.
Family and child health services received cuts, including the Family Health Services ($100,000), WIC Nutritional Services ($135,000), and Early Intervention Services ($820,000).
- Dental Health Services would receive a $500,000 increase (37%).
- The Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Program received a $400,000 (12%) increase, but is $160,000 short of what would be required to maintain the current program.
- Funding for childhood vaccinations under the Universal Immunization Program was taken off budget due to passage earlier this year of legislation to create the Childhood Vaccine Trust Fund that will provide all nationally-recommended childhood vaccines to all children in the Commonwealth.
- The proposed budget does not include the Governor’s proposal to eliminate the sales tax exemption on candy and soda.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Please contact your Representative and urge him or her to sign on as co-sponsor to the important amendments listed below which will address shortfalls in the DPH budget. Representatives have until April 28th to sign on as cosponsor. You can find your representative’s contact information here. If you don’t know who your representative is, please click here.
Amendment #342: Mass in Motion (4513-1112), sponsored by Rep. Gailanne Cariddi at $1,950,000. Mass in Motion communities are making healthier choices easier by increasing access to healthy foods; increasing opportunities for play and physical activity; creating smoke-free multi-unit housing; and leading quality improvement activities at community health centers. Mass in Motion works in 52 Massachusetts cities and towns, covering 33% of the state’s population. Federal funding that supports the program has been eliminated in the federal budget. This amendment will create a new line item and funding for the program so that the work in these communities can continue.
Amendment #1049: State Public Health Laboratory and Communicable Disease Control (4516-1000), sponsored by Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez at $16,630,000. The Public Health Laboratory supports local health departments in every city and town. The State Lab is responsible for testing of samples for influenza, tuberculosis, salmonella, lead poisoning, bioterror agents, food and insect-borne diseases; training for local health departments; and response to disease outbreaks. This amendment would increase funding by $1,250,000 to strengthen quality assurance and biosafety and to improve essential IT capabilities, including real-time communication with municipalities.
Amendment #992: Public Health Critical Operations and Essential Services (4510-0100), sponsored by Rep. Benson at $20,346,607. This line item – cut 18% since FY09 – supports critical DPH services and staff across the Department, including emergency preparedness, environmental health assessments, implementation and enforcement of regulations, reducing disparities in health care, and monitoring and inspections of nursing homes, food safety, and water quality. Without the restoration of this funding, DPH will be forced to eliminate 8-10 program FTEs from the various bureaus.
Amendment #783: Tobacco Prevention and Cessation (4590-0300), sponsored by Rep. Hecht at $9,000,000. The Massachusetts Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program receives less than .05 percent of the $1 billion in tobacco revenue dollars. With an increase of $5 million, MTCP will fund additional enforcement activities; continue smoke-free housing work; add additional hours of Quitline support; and increase the number of The 84 Youth Chapters.
Amendment #1053: Youth Violence Prevention (4590-1506), sponsored by Rep. Sánchez at $2,000,000. This line item funds grants to youth programs for prevention programs on substance abuse, bullying, suicide, and teen pregnancy prevention.
Amendment #683: Youth At-Risk Program (4590-1507), sponsored by Rep. Keenan at $4,150,000. This program provides grants to Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCA’s, and some other non-profits for youth programs for prevention programs on substance abuse, bullying, suicide, gang involvement.
Amendment #529: Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund Technical Corrections, sponsored by by Rep. Hecht. This amendment would fix two technical errors in the language of the Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund, including aligning the final reporting date with the program’s timeline and consolidating two duplicative advisory bodies.