NEB. — Nebraska's Appropriations Committee is set to meet this week to discuss whether or not to allocate an additional $5 million to local health departments who, over the past year, have led efforts on COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, vaccine distribution and education.
The frustration for local health department directors is growing as more work is asked of these departments — especially during the pandemic — but funding isn't reflecting demand.
"If I hear the word public health one more time at either the governor's conference or some other event. It always is 'What will public health do, ask local public health, local public health has the capacity to do it'...we don't," Douglas County Health Director Dr. Adi Pour said.
Dr. Pour said, even before COVID-19 funding which mostly comes from grants and foundations, was scarce.
"We've had under-funded public health for many, many years," she said.
In fact, the under-funding of public health is a national hot topic. The Centers for Disease Control, the nation's leading public health agency, has a budget that has fallen by 10% over the past decade when adjusting for inflation.
"Out of all the spending we're putting into healthcare or the health of Americans, only 2-3% of that is dedicated to public health," Nebraska Senator Tony Vargas said.
Senator Vargas, of Nebraska's Seventh District, is on the Appropriations Committee in the Nebraska Legislature. The committee looks over exactly how and where state dollars are being spent. He said, this week, the committee is sitting down to discuss adding an additional $5 million to be spread over two years to local public health departments in the state.
"I think what we saw this year is they have been underfunded and we've expected more from them...not less," he said.
If approved, the extra bump in funding would still have to be approved by the full legislature and signed by Governor Ricketts.