The Senate Ways and Means Budget proposal for FY15 was released on Wednesday, May 14. Overall, the budget provides maintenance funding for the Department of Public Health (DPH) and a modest increase from FY14 that would maintain essential investments in health infrastructure that were made in last year’s budget. Despite these increases, funding levels remain well below historic levels, and many important line items received below-maintenance funding.
THE GOOD NEWS
Several priority line items received increased funding to either maintain or expand last year’s critical health infrastructure investments.
Health Promotion and Disease Prevention received a $65,000 increase to continue important chronic disease prevention, screening, and outreach measures. Community Health Centers also received a $70,000 (7%) increase from FY14.
The Board of Registration in Pharmacy received maintenance funding, which will allow for the increased inspectional capacity made last year to continue.
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 $5.4 million increase. Three new line items were also introduced. As in the House budget proposal, $815,000 was set aside to create Naloxone Distribution Programs for First Responders in communities with high rates of overdose. Another new line item will allow for voluntary accreditation of Alcohol and Drug Free Housing Programs, funded at $500,000. Finally, $10 million will allow for 10,000 new clients to receive Substance Abuse Treatment through the BSAS.
THE BAD NEWS
The State Laboratory and Communicable Disease Control is almost $1 million below what is needed to maintain its services. 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. Additional funding is needed to conduct a capital feasibility study and provide for crucial quality assurance and IT upgrades.
Environmental Health Services was cut by $130,000 from FY14 and is $200,000 below what is needed to cover the increased cost of services. The programs funded under this account provide for important services such as the control of radiation and nuclear hazards, consumer products protection, food and drugs, lead poisoning prevention, lead-based paint inspections in day care facilities, inspection of radiological facilities, and licensing of X-ray technologists. This cut would result in 4.5 FTEs being cut, including indoor air and food inspectors.
The Critical Operations and Essential Services falls short of what is needed to maintain services, which means an actual cut of almost $700,000 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.
The Food Protection Retained Revenue account was cut by $165,000 (69%) from FY14, which would result in 3 FTE food inspectors being laid off. The Youth-at-Risk Program was also cut by $550,000 (15%). This program provides grants to Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCA’s, and other non-profits for youth prevention programs.
- The Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Program received a $440,000 (13%) increase in funding, but is $110,000 short of what would be required to maintain the current program
- Newborn Hearing Services received a 4% increase in funding
- The Prostate Research line item was cut by $1 million (66%)
- 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.
MPHA Priority Budget Amendments
(Download this list here)
Mass in Motion (4513-1111), sponsored by Sen. Jason Lewis at $500,000.
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. This amendment would dedicate $500,000 to Mass in Motion to match $500,000 from the Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Block grant via DPH so that the work in these communities may continue.
Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund Technical Corrections sponsored by Sen. Jason Lewis.
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.
State Public Health Laboratory and Communicable Disease Control (4516-1000) sponsored by Sen. Kenneth Donnelly at $389,995.
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 restore funding to maintenance levels and add $250,000 to strengthen quality assurance and biosafety with two additional FTEs.
State Public Health Laboratory and Communicable Disease Control (4516-1000) sponsored by Sen. John Keenan at $2,000,000.
Current facilities at the State Lab are dated and in need of repair in order to support and expand lab services. This amendment would increase funding by $2,000,000 to allow for a capital feasibility study to be conducted. The House budget proposal included a $1,000,000 increase for this purpose, but the Senate did not include any additional funding for the study. $2,000,000 is the amount needed for a full feasibility study to be conducted.
Environmental Health Services (4510-0600) sponsored by Sen. Joan Lovely at $209,631.
The programs funded under this account provide important services such as the control of radiation and nuclear hazards, consumer products protection, food and drugs, lead poisoning prevention, lead-based paint inspections in day care facilities, inspection of radiological facilities, and licensing of X-ray technologists. The proposed cuts to this line item would result in 4.5 FTEs being laid off, including the only medical and bio-waste inspector, and would threaten FDA standards. This amendment would restore funding to maintenance level.
Food Protection Program Retained Revenue (4510-0020) sponsored by Sen. Cynthia Creem at $233,203.
This line item is threatened by cuts that would result in 3 FTE food inspectors being laid off. These inspectors work in schools and ensure the health and safety of vending machines inside these schools. There are only 10 such inspectors, so retaining these 3 FTEs is crucial. This amendment would restore the program to maintenance funding.