The National Environmental Health Association’s (NEHA) fifth annual Hill Day is scheduled for Thursday, March 3. The NEHA Board of Directors is scheduled to meet virtually with 30 congressional offices (with more confirmations pending) to discuss the environmental health profession, federal funding of environmental health, and inclusion of environmental health within the PREVENT Pandemics Act. The visits will focus on members of House and Senate Appropriations committees, both Democrat (17 office visits scheduled) and Republican (13 office visits scheduled). This all-day event allows the board to advocate for the profession, highlighting the challenges it is facing 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.
The focus this year are Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) appropriations, highlighting the importance of federal funding for food safety and other environmental health objectives to the state and local environmental health profession. Congress has yet to pass the fiscal year (FY) 2022 budget that began last October, let alone the FY 2023 budget that begins in October. NEHA work is vital as we are the only association that advocates solely for environmental health and the environmental health profession before Congress.
News From Washington, DC
President Joe Biden will deliver his first formal State of the Union Address before Congress on Tuesday, March 1. His speech will focus on the situation in Ukraine, along with domestic economic politics such as the passage of the Build Back Better Act and other infrastructure initiatives. In Congress, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer highlighted that the House’s near-term agenda will include offering support to the Ukrainian people. The White House is now asking Congress for $6.4 billion in emergency and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, in addition to a request of $5 billion for global COVID-19 vaccines and $30 billion to combat the pandemic domestically. This funding could advance through stand-alone legislation or be added to the FY 2022 omnibus spending bill. Congress has until March 11 to act on a final spending package but might not make that deadline to complete its work.
- $1.2 Trillion Infrastructure Package (Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act - HR 3684). Congress enacted and the President signed the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package in November. A majority of these funds will go to highways and transportation project. But several billion was provided for state and local water programs. Most of these funds are either 100% covered by the federal government or 90% covered by the feds with a 10% state match.
- $11.7 billion for the Drinking Water Revolving Fund
- $15 billion for lead pipe removal and replacement
- $4 billion for emerging contaminants, including PFAS in water
- $11.7 billion for the Clean Water Revolving Fund
- $1 billion for emerging contaminants, including PFAS
- $5 billion for Brownfields
- FDA Commissioner Confirmed by Congress. Dr. Robert Califf has been confirmed as the 25th FDA commissioner, taking over the agency from Dr. Janet Woodcock who has served as acting commissioner since Joe Biden became president. Dr. Woodcock remains at FDA as a principal deputy commissioner under Dr. Califf. Prior to FDA, Dr. Califf served as vice chancellor for clinical and translational research at Duke University. He was also FDA’s 22nd commissioner, holding the position from February 2019–January 2017 during Barack Obama’s presidency.
- New AHRQ Director Announced: Dr. Robert “Bob” Otto Valdez was announced as the new director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). Dr. Valdez previously served as founding dean at the Drexel University School of Public Health. He also was the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
- HHS Nominees to Be Considered Before Senate Committee: On March 1, the Senate Finance Committee will hold an open executive session to vote on the nominations of several HHS officials, including Robert Michael Gordon to be an Assistant Secretary; January Contreras as Assistant Secretary for Family Support; and Rebecca E. Jones Gaston to be Commissioner on Children, Youth, and Families.
- NACCHO, SACCHO, and NALBOH Host Virtual Hill Days. During the last week of February, local health leaders from across the country participated in the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) second annual Virtual Hill Week to advocate for the needs of local public health with their members of Congress. Over 90 leaders from the NACCHO Board of Directors, Big Cities Health Coalition, State Associations of County and City Health Officials (SACCHO), and National Association of Local Boards of Health (NALBOH) spoke with over 130 congressional offices in a collective voice for local public health.
- CDC Announces $3 Billion for Public Health Infrastructure, Workforce, and Data Systems. CDC released a grant opportunity forecast for $3 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act for public health infrastructure. Sustainable funding for local environmental public health infrastructure is one of NEHA’s priorities. This funding is noncategorical and cross-cutting, intended to strengthen public health capacity and systems related to workforce, foundational capabilities, data modernization, physical infrastructure, and support from national public health partners. Eligible applicants will include county, city, and state governments. Within the workforce, maximum flexibility will be provided to recipients and there will be no restrictions on the types of positions that can be hired. The grant submission period is estimated to open on April 14, 2022, and close June 13, 2022. The award floor is set at $2.5 million, with a maximum award of $150 million. More information is available from CDC.
Doug Farquhar is the director of Government Affairs at the National Environmental Health Association in Denver, Colorado.