PUBLIC HEALTHChronic Lack of Investment in Public Health Puts Americans’ Lives, Livelihoods at Risk

Published 6 September 2022

COVID-19 emergency funding was critical to initial pandemic response but did not address nation’s long-standing underinvestment in public health; $4.5 billion in annual infrastructure funding is needed.

Chronic underfunding has created a public health system that cannot address the nation’s health security needs, its persistent health inequities, as well as emerging threats, and, was a contributing factor in the inadequate response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report, The Impact of Chronic Underfunding on America’s Public Health System: Trends, Risks, and Recommendations, 2022, released by Trust for America’s Health.

Lack of funding in core public health programs slowed the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and exacerbated its impact, particularly in low-income communities, communities of color, and for older Americans – populations that experience higher rates of chronic disease and have fewer resources to recover from an emergency. TFAH is one of numerous organizations within the public health community calling for an annual $4.5 billion investment in public health infrastructure at the state, local, tribal, and territorial levels.

This annual report examines federal, state, and local public health funding trends and recommends investments and policy actions to build a stronger public health system, prioritize prevention, and address the ways in which social and economic inequities create barriers to good health in many communities.

“As we navigate the next stages of the pandemic and beyond, it is critical that we modernize public health data infrastructure, grow and diversify the public health workforce, invest in health promotion and prevention programs, and reduce health inequities. Investments in public health are needed in every community but should particularly be directed to those communities, which due to the impacts of structural racism, poverty, systemic discrimination, and disinvestment are placed at greatest risk during a health emergency,” said Dr. Gracia.

Emergency Funding Is Not Sufficient to Address System Weaknesses Created by Chronic Underfunding
State and local public health agencies managed two divergent realities during 2021. Short-term funding was up significantly as the federal government provided funding to states and localities in an effort to control the pandemic.  But this funding was one-time money and often specifically tied to COVID-19. Most of it could not be used to address longstanding deficits in the public health system, including ensuring the provision of basic public health services, replacing antiquated data systems, and growing the public health workforce.

An October 2021 analysis conducted by the de Beaumont Foundation and the Public Health National Center for Innovations, found that state and local health departments need an 80 percent increase in the size of their workforce to be able to provide comprehensive public health