By Annie Carlin, Senior Specialist, Public Policy, APHL
It’s March! Federal budget information is coming out fast and furiously. First we had the President’s Budget Requests and Executive Agency Congressional Justifications. Now we are starting to hear information from the House of Representatives on their proposed budget. Amidst all the excitement, APHL members from California, New York, Iowa and Wisconsin along with APHL staff are heading to Capitol Hill on Thursday for our annual Hill Day. We will be talking with members of Congress and their staff about public health laboratories and the importance of maintaining public health funding. Because the country’s financial situation is, shall we say, less than ideal, it is more important than ever to advocate for funding for public health laboratories to ensure they have what they need to accomplish their missions.
APHL members will also be sharing stories from their states to emphasize the impact public health laboratory activities have on constituents. For example, Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) funding has allowed the State Hygienic Laboratory at the University of Iowa to establish relationships with sentinel (clinical) laboratories, law enforcement agencies, HazMat teams and Civil Support Teams. These partnerships are vital to the safety of the citizens of Iowa with regard to terrorism response and public health emergencies. PHEP is not unique to Iowa – awardees include all 50 states, four major metropolitan areas, and eight U.S. territories and freely associated states.
As we scheduled our appointments, it was heartening to hear that congressional staff members were happy to meet with us, and we were especially excited to be able to send APHL appropriations requests along to the congressional staff who work with the appropriate committees.
One exciting difference this year is that APHL made an effort to meet directly with Members of Congress in addition to their staff. As of now, we will be meeting Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) at his weekly breakfast this morning and we will be meeting with Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-California) tomorrow morning.
Some of the programs we will be highlighting this year at Hill Day are:
The Laboratory Efficiencies Initiative (LEI)
President Obama requested that $20 million be appropriated to CDC for the Laboratory Efficiencies Initiative. The goal is to build a sustainable public health laboratory system in the United States. State and local public health laboratories operate under intense pressures. Deep budget cuts have affected their resilience and led to reduced laboratory testing capacity, termination of certain types of tests, and in some cases, impaired support to outbreak investigation, surveillance, and emergency response. The LEI will help public health laboratories fully implement and maintain efficient management practices, which are the foundation of a strong platform for current and future test services.
Public Health Laboratory Response
APHL members will advocate to increase CDC Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) funding for public health laboratories to prepare for and respond to all threats and to increase funding to CDC to expand public health laboratory outreach, training and coordination with sentinel clinical, including hospital, veterinary, food and environmental laboratories where threat agents may first be detected. Members will ask Congress to maintain current funding at CDC for laboratory response to incidents involving chemical threats and provide funding to CDC to improve states’ ability to detect radiological exposure in humans.
Infectious Disease Detection
APHL members will ask Congress to enhance the nation’s ability to respond to emerging disease outbreaks by increasing capacity-building at CDC, develop and deploy diagnostic tests to state and local public health laboratories, and provide technical assistance and training to state and local public health laboratory professionals. They will ask for increased support for the Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity (ELC) Program, to assist state laboratories and enhance national capacity to detect and prevent outbreaks of new infectious disease through the Emerging Infections Program. HIV/AIDs funding and funding for TB laboratory infrastructure will also be highlighted.
Food Safety Surveillance
APHL members will highlight the crucial role public health laboratories play in foodborne disease surveillance and the detection of foodborne outbreaks. Advances in testing methodologies and a highly-trained public health laboratory workforce coupled with key networks such as PulseNet and the Food Emergency Response Network (FERN) have resulted in the detection of a large number of nationwide outbreaks and subsequent food recalls. Members will advocate for funding for the maintenance of PulseNet, which is the only national laboratory-based surveillance system in the United States that uses DNA fingerprinting technology to detect clusters of foodborne pathogens. Without this network, many large national outbreaks will never be detected. Funding for FERN, which has been threatened in recent years with severe funding cuts and elimination, must also be maintained. FERN provides critical surge capacity for nationwide food emergencies, ranging from natural disasters such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 to inadvertent contamination of the food supply including the recent Listeriosis outbreak linked to cantaloupe. APHL members will also advocate for funding to develop new technologies to respond to emerging threats, such as E. Coli O104 that sickened thousands of people in Europe, and to find new ways to conduct surveillance and detect outbreaks of pathogens given the increasing reliance on culture independent diagnostics.
Environmental Health and Biomonitoring
APHL will tell Congress that increased funding for EPA’s Homeland Security Laboratory will allow the Office of Emergency Management to maintain funding for the state chemical warfare agents program, restore support for the state radiological grant program, increase efficiency of electronic data exchange, and review, develop and validate methods for transfer to state and local labs. They will ask that Congress provide EPA with $20 million to ensure continued function of the Water Laboratory Alliance (a nationwide laboratory network protecting our drinking water) to investigate areas to gain efficiency with regard to laboratory capacity across EPA, continue capability-building exercises related to the National Response Plan, develop and validate methods for transfer to local and state labs, build relationships between EPA, states and small water systems and to fund additional staff in the Water Security Division to carry out this work. Members will also ask Congress to provide increased funding to CDC’s National Biomonitoring program and increased funding to support state programs, develop methods, conduct studies and issue reports on chemical exposures in people.