Press Room

ASTHO Report Details Sequestration’s Potential Impact on Federal and State Public Health Programs 

(Sept. 24, 2012) Arlington, Va. – The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) has released a new report on how the federal sequester scheduled for Jan. 2, 2013, will affect public health, including such critical programs as childhood and adult vaccination, disaster preparedness and recovery, maternal and child health, and foodborne outbreak prevention and investigation. The report, “Potential Impact of Sequestration on Public Health,” estimates that the sequester will cut about $2.4 billion in funding at the major federal agencies concerned with public health in FY 2013.

Sequestration is the process of making automatic budget cuts to federal government programs. The sequester was included as a budget reduction enforcement mechanism in the Budget Control Act of 2011. It will take effect in 2013 unless Congress passes legislation to postpone it or finds other ways to reduce the federal deficit.

The sequester will affect federal public health programs as well as state and local health agencies. Under its reductions, the major federal public health agencies will have significantly reduced funds to devote to state health grants and programs. Due to the widespread budget cuts to state public health over the past several years, many state health agencies have had to cut staff and vital public health programs. Based on ASTHO research, since 2008, 48 states have reported budget cuts to health departments and more than 45,700 state and local health department jobs have been lost.

“As Oklahoma’s health commissioner, it’s my job to constantly be thinking about how I’m going to keep Oklahomans safe, so I worry every day about how the sequester will affect them and the rest of America,” says Terry Cline, commissioner of the Oklahoma State Department of Health. “Approximately 60 percent of our agency’s revenue is derived from federal funding. Therefore, across-the-board reductions in federal public health programs could cripple or eliminate necessary public health functions in Oklahoma.”

The report also describes the potential timing of public health programs cuts and the health impacts such large funding reductions will have on public health, both broadly and state by state. Federal public health spending already has been reduced by $2.5 billion, or 8 percent, from FY 2010 through FY 2012. Sequestration will reduce that level by an additional 8.4 percent in a single fiscal year for a total reduction since 2010 of $4.9 billion, or 16 percent.

“Sequestration is intended to force the government to save money, but it’s important to remember how much we’ll lose if it takes place,” says Paul Jarris, MD, MBA, executive director of ASTHO. “Billions in cuts could put American lives at risk. It means fewer meals for our nation’s children who receive WIC benefits, fewer vaccinations for our senior citizens, and a slower response to terrorist attacks, pandemics, or other emergencies. And because it costs more to treat patients than it does to prevent their ailments, it will end up costing taxpayers and the government in the future.”

Sequestration’s cuts would touch every aspect of public health. For example:

  • Between 210,000 and 840,000 children and adults would be denied vaccines that prevent hepatitis B, influenza, measles, and pertussis outbreaks.
  • Approximately 659,000 individuals in the United States will not be tested for HIV due to reductions in the availability of HIV tests.
  • More than 750,000 mothers and infants will be cut from WIC.
  • Funding reductions would cut federal support for 2,500 specialized disease detectives in state and local health departments.
  • Outbreaks of foodborne disease, meningitis, pneumonia, and other conditions would be investigated more slowly or not at all.
  • The time to identify and appropriately treat victims of a chemical attack would double from five days to up to two weeks.

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The report is now available on ASTHO’s website.

ASTHO is the national nonprofit organization representing the public health agencies of the United States, the U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia, as well as the more than 100,000 public health professionals these agencies employ. ASTHO members, the chief health officials of these jurisdictions, are dedicated to formulating and influencing sound public health policy and to ensuring excellence in state-based public health practice.

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