If the Supplemental Budget is the final “meal” the Legislature creates for lobbyists before heading off into the interim diet, then this year’s public health courses were a mixed bag. Some features included tried and true investments; others provided new or additional considerations, while other budget items left us wanting a more palatable finish.
A highlight of budget items below:
First up – some miniature courses addressing our state’s opioid crisis. A statewide secure drug take-back program was created in 2017, preempting several existing local programs. This ended up being ok as the 2017 legislation was built to mirror these existing programs, assuring communities that service would continue. Funding was increased in the Supplemental Budget to the Secure Drug Take-Back Program, under which drug manufacturers can take back unused prescription medication for safe disposal. An additional $2 million was also provided for a drug awareness campaign to educate the public about the increase and dangers of fentanyl and methamphetamine to prevent overdose and deaths. HB 1074, which gives local health jurisdictions the ability to implement community overdose and suicide fatality review teams, was also funded, with administrative dollars going to the Department of Health. Overall, these investments signal that more attention and prevention work is needed on opioids and other drugs. We’re excited to work on what a more extensive menu to support this work could look like next biennium.
A surprising refresh was an investment into statewide tobacco and vaping prevention strategies.
Washington State ranks near the very bottom in our country for tobacco prevention and education funding.
This budget included $5 million toward community-based prevention, treatment, cessation, and education strategies. This is the first investment into this area for several bienniums and will significantly help local tobacco programs, often implemented by local health jurisdictions. Additional investment into the State’s smoking cessation quitline was also made, allowing further expansion into technology platforms. It was a pleasant surprise that excited us about bolstering in the future.
Moving to an unsatisfying main budget item: Coronavirus Response. Local health jurisdictions have relied heavily on federal grants to support local response efforts, including testing, care coordination, outbreak response, business partnerships, and mass vaccination. As the pandemic is shifting towards a surveillance-based response centered on outbreak control, the potential for federal grants to end abruptly grows. A similar funding cliff was felt after 2009’s H1N1 investments – huge gains were made in building up the public health system, only to have these investments suddenly disappear along with the advancements made. The Governor’s, House, and Senate Budgets proposed robust investment into maintaining a strong pandemic response with the Governor’s and House budget nearing $300 million and the Senate topping $250 million. All budgets used different funding sources – ARPA, State General Fund, and federal grants. However, these proposals ended up promising more than they delivered with the final budget only including $115 million from the state’s Coronavirus Fiscal Recovery Fund. We anxiously hope that this gives us enough support to continue pandemic work while working to hand off system improvements and enhancements to other funding sources in the future, such as foundational public health services.