A few highlights of the hits (good) and misses (bad) of this biennium’s operating budget.

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Hit: On-going and stable funding for Foundational Public Health Services (FPHS).

The legislature funded Foundational Public Health Services at $22 million on-going funding. This is a hopeful first step toward the full funding of all areas within FPHS. (Remember, through the needs assessment – this need came in at $450 million/biennium for the governmental public health system).

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This biennium’s allocation is comprised of $10 million general fund as well as revenue from the Foundational Public Health Services Account, established through the recently passed vapor tax (HB 1873). With the passage of HB 1497 – setting up the framework and concurrence process, we look forward to reinforcing our local health jurisdictions with this and continued funding!

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Miss: Group B Water Systems funding.

While a small budget item – only $1.2 million for the biennium, this funding would have helped keep local Group B water programs open. Instead, the legislature did not fund Group B water systems at all.

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There are approximately 13,400 Group B water systems in the state, with local health jurisdictions responsible for ensuring most of these systems are functioning properly and providing the public with safe and reliable drinking water. Without this funding, local programs are at risk of being cut – putting the drinking water of our rural residents at risk.

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Hit: Prevention and upstream investments.

A common theme that appeared to ring true for the legislature this year was to invest in prevention-focused programs and upstream services. For example, the legislature invested nearly $10 million in expanding home visiting programs in Washington. These programs are shown to reduce child abuse and neglect, strengthen family relationships, and connect families to care more efficiently.

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Additionally, as part of the health care authority’s community behavioral health work, over $3 million was allocated to suicide prevention with the goal of providing better clinical assessment and support for community initiatives. Suicide is a growing public health issue not only in Washington but also across our country.

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We hope that this is the first on continued investment for this issue as many local health jurisdictions are convening their communities partners to develop local strategies that prevent suicide.

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Miss: Local Solid Waste Financial Assistance (LSWFA).

With MTCA reform legislation and changes to the taxing structure and additional revenue generated for MTCA, local health jurisdictions were hopeful that LSWFA would be restored to its pre-recession levels. This fund provides the ability for counties to enforcement illegal hazardous waste dumping and ensures solid waste facilities operate safely.

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Unfortunately, the $10 million LSWFA allocation will continue to be inadequate for counties to address the increasing demand around solid and hazardous waste disposal. For a more in-depth perspective of the let-down on MTCA reform, read the blog post by Paul Jewell. 

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Hit: Clark County Measles Outbreak Expenditures.

While this wasn’t a planned or known budget request at the start of the session, the measles outbreak in Washington demonstrated just how quickly local budgets are impacted by emergencies. Coupled with the passage of HB 1638 – vaccines quickly became a hot button issue in the legislature.

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With over $800,000 in unplanned costs, Clark County would need to cut other vital programs and services and redistribute public health and safety funds to cover the costs for the outbreak. It is encouraging that the legislature recognized the burden the cost of this outbreak was to counties and budgeted the full request to cover costs for the outbreak response.

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While this budget had its ups and downs – overall, the support for core public health services and funding for many prevention-focused projects demonstrates that the legislature values the role public health has in keeping Washingtonians safe and healthy.

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We look forward to continuing to build this support by being good stewards with the funding we did receive and increasing the understanding of the vital role local public health has in creating a thriving Washington.