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Steans, Mulroe hold Senate hearing on public health dangers of budget impasse (AUDIO)

pubhlth approp 11 03 15

Compared to a state budget that tops $30 billion per year, $17.1 million may not seem like much. But 96 local health departments in every corner of Illinois use that money, which funds Local Health Protection Grants, to do everything from providing flu shots to inspecting restaurant kitchens to preparing to respond to outbreaks of disease. This year, because the state doesn’t have a budget, those grants are not available.

Health Depts MAP lgTwo Senate committees recently heard testimony from county health department administrators and other public health professionals about the devastating impact of the budget standoff on essential public health services. Senator Heather Steans, one of the Senate’s budget committee chairs, has introduced legislation (Senate Bill 2178) that would fund Local Health Protection Grants at last year’s levels while negotiations continue toward a longer-term spending and revenue solution.

“As budget negotiations continue, policymakers still have a responsibility to maintain essential services and ensure that communities across the state are ready to respond to public health emergencies,” Steans said. “Local public health grants make up a relatively small portion of the overall budget, but releasing these funds will make a critical difference.”

More than one-third of local health departments have already reduced hours, eliminated programs or laid off staff because state funding is no longer flowing. Among the services jeopardized are HIV/AIDS testing and treatment, prenatal and postnatal education, nutrition and weight loss programs, restaurant health inspections, smoking cessation help, vaccinations and the ability to respond quickly to public health threats, such as the recent outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease in veterans’ homes.

“Who can argue that public health is not an essential duty of state government?” said Sen. John Mulroe, chair of the Senate Public Health Committee. “Under the constitution and as elected officials, we are obligated to ensure that the health and safety of the people is protected. Public health should not be jeopardized by the governor’s obsession with an anti-union and anti-middle class agenda.”