More than 170 public health organizations have issued a letter to Congressional Conferees urging them to maintain the House-passed level of funding for prevention and wellness programs in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009. The final Senate version of the bill removed all funding for these programs.

Among those organizations were the American Physical Therapy Association, American Occupational Therapy Association, Amputee Coalition of America, American College of Sports Medicine, Association of University Centers on Disabilities, Arthritis Foundation, Brain Injury Association of America, and the Autism Society of America.

The funding in the House stimulus could directly save or create more than 20,000 public health jobs. As states, local governments, and communities are hit with economic hard times, they have already laid off more than 11,000 public health workers and left more than 10,000 jobs vacant, and at least as many layoffs are expected in the coming year.

By funding the expansion of targeted, effective community-based disease prevention programs, additional new jobs will be created directly in the communities they are serving. The funding would support existing programs, where mechanisms are in place to get the money out quickly so it can have an immediate impact on the economy.

The full text of the letter is below:

February 10, 2009
Dear Conferee:

Our 174 organizations express our gratitude and support for the robust public health provisions included in the House-passed version of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and our extreme disappointment over the $5.8 billion in prevention and wellness funding stripped from the Senate bill. We urge you to maintain the House-passed level of $3 billion for prevention and wellness in the final enacted version of the bill.

As you know, the public health system is experiencing severe workforce shortages. State and local health departments lost over 11,000 jobs last year. The Prevention and Wellness Fund included in the House bill would help to restore lost jobs and prevent a projected additional 10,000 job vacancies from occurring next year in health departments.

During an economic downturn, it is important to have a strong safety net to support individuals who are losing their health coverage. As unemployment rates soar, unemployed workers and their families turn to state and local health departments and community-based organizations for basic health services, like immunizations and preventive services that are provided free of charge to those who cannot afford them. Toward that end, we hope that you will consider an investment in wellness and prevention as a means of restoring and creating jobs, as well as offering assistance to struggling families.

The recovery and reinvestment legislation affords the opportunity to stimulate the economy and strengthen our investment in health infrastructure and workforce while building stronger, healthier communities. This investment can also help stave off the onset of many costly chronic diseases and avoid the need for treatment of expensive complications of disease. Controlling health care costs will be critical to getting the country’s economy back on track. Fundamental health care reform, particularly reform that focuses on ways to keep Americans healthier, must be part of solving our current financial crisis. Funding for public health and disease prevention in the stimulus bill is a down payment toward reducing health care costs over the long term.

Our nation needs a healthy and productive population to meet the challenges of the future, and rebound from these difficult times. An investment in public health will put us on a preferred path of prevention and wellness. To prevent further job loss in state and local health departments, stimulate job creation in the health field, and fully capitalize on the opportunity to promote health, we ask that you include at least $3 billion for prevention and wellness in the final version of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Source: Trust for America’s Health

[Source: PR Newswire]