The White House announced Thursday that it will use $7.4 billion from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan enacted in March to recruit, hire and train public health workers to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and prepare for future health threats.
“The funding announced today will allow the United States to expand its public health workforce, creating tens of thousands of jobs to support vaccinations, testing, contact tracing, and community outreach, and strengthen America’s future public health infrastructure,” the White House said in a fact sheet about the program.
Of the total spending, $4.4 billion will be used to boost staffing at strained state and local public health departments, including funding to hire school nurses to help classrooms reopen. The other $3 billion will go toward a new grant program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention aimed at helping health departments hire staff, with grant recipients asked to prioritize recruiting candidates from the communities they serve and from underrepresented backgrounds.
Why it matters: “The funds could give a much-needed boost to America’s crumbling public health infrastructure,” The Washington Post’s William Wan writes. Local public health agencies lost almost a quarter of their workers since 2008, he adds, as the CDC’s emergency preparedness budget was cut by 30% since 2003.
A report published earlier this month by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Trust for America’s Health said that the pandemic had highlighted the risks of chronic underfunding of the public health system: “To stand a chance against a threat like COVID-19, the nation needs to sustain higher funding year to year and invest resources in planning, workforce, and infrastructure for years beforehand. Not doing so is akin to hiring firefighters and purchasing hoses and protective equipment amid a five-alarm fire,” the report said. “While it is too soon to calculate with precision, it is likely that the United States might have averted spending much of the trillions of dollars that the COVID-19 pandemic cost if it had invested just a few billion dollars more in public health spending earlier.”