369: Island Officials Advocate, Congressional Mood Toward PH

Carolyn Mullen, ASTHO Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and Public Relations, previews the work ahead in Congress and ASTHO’s public health policy agenda in the first installment of the View from Washington D.C. report; Alex Wheatley,...

Carolyn Mullen, ASTHO Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and Public Relations, previews the work ahead in Congress and ASTHO’s public health policy agenda in the first installment of the View from Washington D.C. report; Alex Wheatley, ASTHO Assistant Director of the Island Support Team, says island officials have a packed agenda in Washington next week to engage policymakers working in the Administration and Congress; and ASTHO’s Fiscal Year 2024 Public Health Appropriations Book is now available.

ASTHO Webpage: Fully Fund the Renegotiated Compacts of Free Association and Reduce Compact Impact in U.S. Territories and States Policy Statement

ASTHO Webpage: ASTHO Governmental Public Health Appropriations Book FY24

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This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Friday, March 3rd, 2023. I'm Robert Johnson. Now today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.



So, I would say the mood on the Hill was exciting. I mean, I love being up on Capitol Hill.



ASTHO's Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and Public Relations, Carolyn Mullen, with a preview of the work ahead in Congress and ASTHO's public health policy agenda.  We'll have more on that in a moment, but first ASTHO's members, including public health leaders representing several island territories and freely associated states are in Washington next week, to engage policymakers working in the administration and Congress. ASTHO's Alex Wheatley says island officials have a packed agenda.



So on Monday, our members we'll meet with representatives from the Government Accountability Office to discuss island veterans' access to health care. On Tuesday, we'll meet with Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Department of Interior (DOI) as well as key committees on Capitol Hill. With DOI and HHS, we'll focus on giving our members a chance to share their priorities and questions and concerns directly with key leadership from those agencies. And then on Capitol Hill, I think conversations will focus on the ongoing negotiations of the Compacts of Free Association.



Wheatley is excited about the potential to make an impact next week.



It's a big week. I think as to his goal of supporting and equipping members to do their work in public health is really strengthened by being able to speak directly with the decision makers in Washington D.C. So having our islands fly in thousands and thousands of miles to have their voices heard directly, I think is a really powerful statement.



There's a buzz on Capitol Hill these days as a new legislative session is well underway. With the weather here in Washington D.C. warming up a little, that means more people from all over are in town to make the case for the issues they believe need congressional attention.


As you heard a moment ago, ASTHO is jumping into the mix next week. Its members coming here to advocate for public health. Carolyn Mullen is ASTHO's Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and Public Relations, and she's here with her very first "View from Washington D.C." report.  What do ASTHO members need out of Congress this year?



So, our members need sustained and hopefully increased federal funding for public health priorities. And those priorities include, public health infrastructure funding, social determinants of health funding, data modernization, and a number of other priorities which are included in our FY 24 Appropriations Book, which we just finalized this week in partnership with our affiliated organizations. In addition, Congress needs to reauthorize the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, and efforts are underway to meet with members of Congress on the Hill to talk to them about our priorities for that legislation as well.



That's an important agenda. It's a long one, in some respects, how do you make the case for all of that on the Hill this year?



So, we're in a really interesting environment with Congress right now, as you know, Republicans control the House, Democrats control the Senate. And there's a lot of new members of Congress, new leadership in both committees and in the Majority Leader of the House, so we're doing a lot of bare bones education. And so, I start off those meetings by saying, "Do you know who ASTHO is?", and yesterday, I got the response, "Actually, I don't know who ASTHO is". So, I walk them through the significance and importance of our members. 


We're in a really unique time in history where our country is so politically divided, and ASTHO has a really unique position in we represent all states, red states, blue states, big states, little states. And we make the case that when we say something, it means something. It's the consensus of the entire country. And that really gets people's eyes open, and they lean in and they're eager to learn more, because you need to have bipartisanship in order to get things accomplished with this Congress. So, we start off with basic education, and then we talk about the role our members play. They're high ranking health officials, oftentimes reporting to the governors, and then our priorities post pandemic, really getting that flexible source of federal funding through the public health infrastructure fund, and also modernizing our data systems and addressing health equity and ensuring there's optimal health for all.



Given what is happening on the Hill right now with a divided Congress, what's your assessment of the mood there, and how strong is support for public health going forward?



So, it was really exciting. Yesterday, I was up on Capitol Hill with my colleague Devon, and we did in person meetings for the first time, in three years.


It was crowded up on the Hill, people were excited to be there. And staff actually welcomed the opportunity to meet with us in person, you just don't get that same sort of connectedness virtually. And I really love the opportunity to meet with new staff. And you could tell how they feel about public health, even by just leaning into the conversation a little bit, or blank stares, you know, some staff are like, you know, clearly not interested in public health. And we try to hook them and saying, "We know what motivates you as a congressional staffer? What gets you excited in this position? What are your boss's priorities?"


I would say overall, there is a deep concern about increasing funding for public health by House Republicans specifically, there didn't seem to be a huge appetite for that during our meetings yesterday, so we framed it more as sustaining investments. We know that congressional staff, when they're making these sorts of budgetary decisions are actually looking at Excel spreadsheets. They're trying to make the numbers work, so what we want to do is make those numbers real to them. So, if they cut something 30%, what would the on the ground impact of that cut be? So, we try to add those stories when we have conversations in our advocacy messaging.


So, I would say the mood on Hill was exciting. I mean, I love being up on Capitol Hill, a little bit challenging in terms of making those federal funding requests with staff, but there's also an opportunity there's so many new people they're eager and willing to learn. And the unique position that ASTHO has, as a nonpartisan organization, is such a really critical moment in our nation's history to be an advocate for public health representing all states, so I was excited about the opportunity to be up there yesterday.



Carolyn Mullen, thank you for this "View from Washington, D.C." and for being here. Good luck next week.



Thank you so much, Robert. 



Before we go, we wanted to let you know that ASTHO'S FY 24 Public Health Appropriations Book is now available. You can download it using the link in the show notes. 

That'll do it for today's newscast. We're back Monday morning with more ASTHO news and information. I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great weekend.

Carolyn Mullen

Senior Vice President, Government Affairs & PR, ASTHO

Alex Wheatley MPA

Senior Analyst, Island Support, ASTHO