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NEHA Visits Congress Virtually

Date posted: Tuesday, April 27, 2021
Blog poster: Doug Farquhar, JD

For this year's Earth Day on April 22, NEHA spread the word about environmental health among the nation's policy makers in Washington, DC. With the COVID-19 pandemic and other restrictions, visiting Congress in person wasn't an option this year but the NEHA Board of Directors and staff leadership made the trek virtually through Zoom meetings.

NEHA's fourth annual Hill Day allowed NEHA to meet with 42 Congressional offices (with two more visits in the coming weeks) to discuss the environmental health profession, federal funding of environmental health, and enactment of the Environmental Health Workforce Act (HR 2661). The visits focused on members of the House and Senate Appropriations committees, both Democrat (NEHA visited 24 offices) and Republican (NEHA visited 18 offices). Beginning early in the morning and lasting into the evening, NEHA board members and staff met with and discussed the challenges facing the profession due to COVID-19, the need for support from the nation's federal policy makers, and the decimation of trained staff due to funding cuts and overwork.

Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence (D-Michigan) spoke with NEHA President Sandra Long, President-Elect Roy Kroeger, Executive Director David Dyjack, and Government Affairs Director Doug Farquhar, providing her thoughts regarding the profession. As the lead sponsor of the Environmental Health Workforce Act, she was honored to speak with and support NEHA, acknowledging the stresses the workforce is suffering. The Environmental Health Workforce Act would provide much needed training and credentialing nationwide, she commented, and she believes the Act has a good chance of advancing through Congress this year. The bill is still awaiting a Senate companion, which was introduced in previous sessions by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan).

Meetings with other offices led to several takeaways. NEHA shared information on the state of the environmental health workforce and profession, discussing how many people our profession touches from food safety to drinking and wastewater to environmental hazards, such as lead and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

NEHA board members and staff shared the following:

  • The importance of the environmental health workforce to the nation and each state.
  • The introduction of the Environmental Health Workforce Act of 2021 by Representative Brenda Lawrence.
  • The value of federal support to state, territorial, local, and tribal environmental health workforces through funding of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH). Specifically, for the government to provide at least $322 million to NCEH to ensure all if its programs are adequately funded, including $93.72 million for the Environmental Health Activities line item that includes $20.4 million for the All Other Environmental Health Activities subline item.
  • The value of federal support of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Specifically, for the government to provide $93 million for ATSDR in the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill for fiscal year (FY) 2022.
  • The value of federal support for food safety programs at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and to appropriate at least $510 million in FY 2022 toward the food safety needs of FDA.

Certain Congressional offices would only meet with their constituents. As such, NEHA had to recruit NEHA past presidents Bob Custard and David Riggs to speak with members from their states (Virginia and Washington, respectively). Jesse Anglesey, president of the Idaho Environmental Health Association, spoke with staff from the office of Representative Mike Simpson (R-Idaho). NEHA Member Peggy Mitchell from Delaware spoke with staff from the office of Senator Chris Coons (D-Delaware).

Some NEHA board members had several visits. NEHA had seven meetings with Congressional members on Appropriations committees from California. Being from California, Region 2 Vice-President Michele DiMaggio had a busy day. "I learned a lot about representation and I learned a lot about my own capabilities," stated DiMaggio.

NEHA President Long had 10 meetings on Hill Day. "I had positive feedback from all that I spoke with. It was a great day filled with energy," Long commented after her meetings.

Conducting Hill Days virtually might be the wave of the future. With security and health restrictions, it is becoming much easier for both Congress and visitors to meet virtually. What we lose in having face-to-face meetings, however, we gain in being able to visit more offices to spread the word about the importance of environmental health.

In total, NEHA spoke to and shared information with 42 members of Congressional Appropriations committees, both from the House and Senate, leaving behind NEHA letters of support and advocating for the Environmental Health Workforce Act. NEHA set the stage for its fifth annual Hill Day scheduled for spring 2022.

About blog poster: Doug Farquhar is the director of Government Affairs at the NEHA in Denver, Colorado.