Health groups want budget to focus less on cutting taxes and more on public health spending; photo by Nop Viwat from Pexels

Mass Groups: State Funding Needed for Local Health Departments

by Lily Bohlke, Commonwealth News Service

Groups advocating for public health in Massachusetts urged Gov. Charlie Baker and the General Assembly not to cut funding for the Public Health Excellence Grant Program in the 2023 budget.

During the pandemic, the grants allowed local departments to collaborate and conduct testing, contact tracing and vaccinations, as well as a range of other health and safety responsibilities.

Carlene Pavlos, executive director of the Massachusetts Public Health Association, said the grant program is especially important to reduce disparities in local public health.

“Because local public health is organized at the local level it’s also, by-and-large, funded at the local level,” Pavlos explained. “We see extreme variation and frankly, inequity in the way local public health services are funded, because it comes from local taxes.”

The governor’s proposed budget reduces the funding for Public Health Excellence Grants by one-third, from $15 million in 2022 to $10 million next year. Pavlos hopes the state House and Senate will consider their importance as they put their budget together, although much of the focus so far has been on cutting taxes.

2019 report from the Special Commission on Regional and Local Health echoes the call for more state funding for public health. It noted many Massachusetts health departments already struggle with an ever-increasing list of public-health issues to address.

Pavlos pointed out the pandemic has increased public awareness of their importance.

“They’re responsible for answering the public’s questions about COVID, quarantine and isolation, and the list just goes on and on,” Pavlos asserted. “This work is on top of the everyday responsibilities that they have for restaurants and housing safety, and lead inspection, and water well safety and septic permits.”

The governor has released his proposal and the Legislature will hold public hearings on the budget. The House will draft its proposal in early April. A final budget needs to be signed into law by the start of the new fiscal year, July 1.

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