Public Health on the Hill: A Coalition for Sustained Support

March 07, 2019|1:36 p.m.| Adriane Casalotti, Chief of Government and Public Affairs, NACCHO | Carolyn Mullen, Chief of Government Affairs and Public Relations, ASTHO

Carolyn MullenAdriane Casalotti, NACCHOOur nation’s public health system is, at its core, a partnership between federal, state, and local governments. While these partnerships are clear on the ground in communities, many members of Congress are unaware of the important work being done each day to keep their states and communities safe and healthy.

That is why, for the first time ever, ASTHO and NACCHO will host a joint public health advocacy day on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., to help bring these messages to elected officials from across the country. Along with members of the Big Cities Health Coalition (BCHC), the State Associations of County and City Health Officials (SACCHOs), and the National Association of Local Boards of Health (NALBOH), state and local public health leaders will educate policymakers about the value and importance of federal funding for public health departments and programs throughout the country. In order to best protect and promote the health of all Americans, it is critical that there is a strong coordinated public health system at all levels. Without a robust system, people suffer.

The work of public health is often invisible. In our daily lives, we rarely consider the safety of the food we eat, the air we breathe, or the water we drink. It is only when there is a disaster or outbreak that the safety net of public health becomes apparent. However, it is also in these crises that we recognize the chronic underfunding of our governmental public health system.

This year, we are joining together as one public health voice to illustrate the need for Congress to support strong public health legislation and provide sustained, predictable, and increased funding for public health across the spectrum.

What’s in store for ASTHO and NACCHO members during this year’s Public Health on the Hill?
ASTHO, NACCHO, BCHC, SACCHOs, and NALBOH members will have numerous opportunities to network, learn, and spread shared messages regarding the importance of governmental public health. We will host a joint dinner for all of our members so they hear the latest updates on federal public health issues from White House officials and receive training on how to conduct a successful meeting with a member of Congress. The next day, we will kick off with a joint breakfast, in which members of Congress and their staff can stop by, grab a cup of coffee, and get to know their public health leaders in a more informal setting. After that, public health leaders will embark on nearly 200 meetings with key members of Congress and their staff. It is the perfect time to be here: right now, members of Congress are putting together funding priorities for the upcoming fiscal year. Moreover, after last year’s election, there are nearly 100 new legislators who will be considering public health funding for the first time. Many fondly coin this time in Washington, D.C. as “March Madness,” because there are so many constituent groups urging Congress to prioritize funding for their focus area. By working in coalition, we are able to amplify our messages to new and veteran lawmakers alike.

What are some of the key messages ASTHO and NACCHO will be sharing with Congress and the Administration this year?
While there are many shared priorities, including the importance of passing a reauthorization of the now-expired Pandemic All-Hazards Preparedness Act, as well as Congressional interest in combatting emerging outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, this is the key time in Washington, D.C. to discuss federal funding for the many important programs that state and local health departments use to improve the health of communities. Additionally, with sequestration returning next year and a predicted $55 billion cut in non-defense discretionary programs, our members will be urging Congress to develop a bipartisan budget deal to address this issue. In addition, there is a need to address CDC’s chronic underfunding by increasing their budget 22 percent by fiscal year 2022—a campaign we call 22 x 22. Similarly, state and local public health departments need increased investments in our nation’s key preparedness programs, as well as support for the public health workforce and infrastructure to fill gaps in our nation’s public health system. The advocacy efforts of ASTHO and NACCHO on Capitol Hill are driven by our respective annual board-approved legislative agendas.

For those unable to attend, how do ASTHO and NACCHO support state and territorial health officials in maintaining relationships with members of Congress? Why are these connections important?
While this joint advocacy day is an important opportunity for state and local health officials to meet with their elected representatives face-to-face, it is far from the only way for health departments to engage with Congress. In fact, it is incredibly important to build relationships with these decisionmakers and be in touch with them consistently over the course of the year. This could be as simple as a meeting with the elected official or their staff in the district office, offering yourself as a resource on public health matters. It could also mean inviting them to a community health fair you are hosting or hosting a tour of the health department to see the value and importance of public health work. More specific ideas and guidance can be found in NACCHO’s Advocacy Toolkit and ASTHO’s Advocacy Toolkit. Moreover, we each lead teams of government relations staff ensuring that ASTHO and NACCHO are working each day to spread the messages of governmental public health to lawmakers and the Administration, keeping our issues top-of-mind as Congress makes big decisions impacting the work done by health departments across the country.

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