It is encouraging to see that three of the four public health funding priorities for local health jurisdictions and counties were funded. Reinforcing local public health is vital to maintain a responsive and competent infrastructure that can respond to emergencies as well as implement programs and services that meet the needs of our communities.
Foundational Public Health Services
Perhaps most exciting is that the $10.5 million shortfall for Foundational Public Health Services (FPHS) was made whole ($22 million for 2019-2021 biennium). This means the gaps we are closing in our local capacity around communicable disease can continue. Local health jurisdictions are using this funding to respond to disease outbreaks, promote immunizations, and conduct STD investigations. Gains made at reducing rates of Hepatitis C and STDs will not be lost, and this is critical to further improvements on population health. In addition to the backfill, the House also appropriated an additional $4 million to FPHS work.
Washington State received the first case of coronavirus in the United States at the end of January this year. Since then, local and state governments have ramped up response efforts to control further spread of cases. At the local level, this has included multiple outbreak investigations, planning and surveillance measures, risk communication, and public education. It has also meant many program staff have been shifted from their normal duties to help cover the magnitude of these efforts.
Costs for this outbreak response have been incurred across the state – all 35 local health jurisdictions have ramped up preparedness activities with the bulk of work and response efforts occurring in Snohomish, King, and other Puget Sound counties. Both the House and the Senate have supported public health emergency response to COVID-19 by appropriating $5 million. This funding will be critical to cover costs incurred during this first month of response as well as establish critical long-term response measures.
Local Solid Waste Financial Assistance (LSWFA) Funding
The $9 million in LSWFA restoration is critical for both local public health and solid waste programs to respond to the increased need for recycling, hazardous risk waste management, and environmental cleanup. This funding will help bring back local programs and access to facilities lost since budget cuts in 2013. Now is the time to invest in this infrastructure as our solid waste program is growing with our population.
Local Group B Water Systems
Continued funding for local Group B water systems is essential for local health jurisdictions to maintain effective water quality programs. At present, 13,400 Group B systems provide safe drinking water to communities across Washington with fewer than 15 service connections, including small stores, businesses, or residences. Unfortunately, funding to maintain local programs was not included in either the House or Senate budgets. While a small request of $492,000, these local programs are at risk for stopping, pushing this responsibility back to the state, provides more rigid and costly oversight. We are hopeful that the legislature will work with counties to ensure that this program gets funded so that local governments can continue to work to increase access to clean drinking water and promote economic opportunity in rural areas.
Local public health is essential to ensuring all our communities are safe and healthy places, and we are working hard to keep our state protected from public health threats. With the support of the legislature, critical programs and gains in capacity can continue to expand and work to make Washington safe and healthy.