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Fits and Starts for Federal Funding

Emily J. Holubowich, MPP, Senior Vice President at CRD Associates, is NAPHSIS’s Washington representative and leads our advocacy efforts in the nation’s capital.

In part because of the presidential transition, and in part because of lawmakers’ preoccupation with other policy priorities – namely, health care reform – Congress is woefully behind schedule in determining fiscal 2018 funding levels for federal agencies and programs. The House has worked furiously to move all of its 12 spending bills through the House Appropriations Committee before the August recess, including the typically controversial spending bill for public health and health research. The Senate, on the other hand, has barely just begun.

The House Appropriations Committee last week approved funding for the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) at a level of $155.4 million in fiscal 2018, roughly $5 million less than fiscal 2017 and consistent with the President’s budget request. This proposed cut was not in response to anything NCHS has done (or hasn’t done); it is simply a function of an austere funding environment where difficult choices must be made about how best to invest limited resources. We will have to wait until September before we know what the Senate Appropriations Committee has in store for the agency.

There simply isn’t enough time to finalize spending bills before the fiscal year ends September 30, so Congress will be forced to enact a continuing resolution to keep the government open after October 1. Our hope is that Congress will then work together to enact another bipartisan budget agreement to stop sequestration—which returns in fiscal 2018 and would cut domestic funding by $3 billion below current levels. A new budget deal to raise the caps will provide more funding for lawmakers to work with, and allow them to minimize the level of damaging cuts. In any event, congressional staff under the direction of lawmakers will eventually work to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate appropriations bills and draft an “omnibus” spending bill, that is, a massive spending package that includes funding for all federal agencies.

The appropriations end game will come into clearer focus after October 1. In the meantime, if you would like to get more engaged in efforts to educate lawmakers on the value of public health broadly and vital records particularly, we recommend "Meeting with Your Congressional Delegation at Home" prepared by the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO). This guide explains why it’s important for public health professionals to interact with policymakers and how to do so. With federal lawmakers about to head home for the August recess, now is a great time to start reaching out.

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