424: People Power, Movement on Spending Bills

AJ Pearlman, Director of Public Health AmeriCorps, says the organization can provide the people to support agency infrastructure improvements; Carolyn Mullen, ASTHO’s Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and Public Relations, says there is...

AJ Pearlman, Director of Public Health AmeriCorps, says the organization can provide the people to support agency infrastructure improvements; Carolyn Mullen, ASTHO’s Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and Public Relations, says there is some movement on spending bills in Congress; ASTHO plans a webinar on Wednesday, June 21st that features teams who’ve improved vaccine uptake in their communities; and ASTHO reports the number of proposals to ban flavored tobacco products in a STAT news article. 


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This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Friday, May 19, 2023. I'm Robert Johnson.

Now, today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.



So it's incredibly important that we share the benefits of working in public health with a new generation and that we bring a future public health leaders to the table.


AJ Pearlman is director of Public Health AmeriCorps, talking about the human side of the infrastructure equation.


My message is focused on the fact that Public Health AmeriCorps is an innovative program that was developed to bolster the public health workforce by recruiting and developing the next generation of public health leaders.


Pearlman is on a panel at next week's TechXpo, hosted by ASTHO in Chicago and online.


So we believe that Public Health AmeriCorps can serve as a capacity boost for public health to address those urgent public health needs, and at the same time serve as that training ground to invest in the people that will support and lead the public health infrastructure in the future.


Pearlman says Public Health AmeriCorps can provide the people power to accompany the influx of federal dollars going to state and local agencies.


I think we're at a unique point in time where we have the resources available to make some changes that are well overdue. So, to the extent that we have learned the need for quick and responsive data to inform our public health decision making, now is the time to use those resources and to build upon what we've learned to improve our path for the future.


Listen in on more discussions like this with an online ticket to the TechXpo. The meetings begin Tuesday. You can get your ticket now using the link in the show notes.


This was a whirlwind week on Capitol Hill, including some breaking news about spending bills. We get the rundown from ASTHO's senior vice president of government affairs and public relations, Carolyn Mullen.

Carolyn Mullen, happy Friday.


Happy Friday to you. This week felt like everything happening all at once, Robert, I gotta be honest.


Isn't that the case always when Congress is involved? Tell us what's going on with the debt ceiling talks right now and how ASTHO members are affected by all of that.


As of right now, there was a big meeting this past week with President Biden and leadership of Congress still trying to negotiate a deal. What came out of media reports was basically that they've assigned staff to start negotiating. So, baby steps. Still not a lot of information coming out about that. We're keeping a watchful eye on it. But I imagine that it's going to happen next week, because the X date is still June 1. And so, we anticipate some sort of hopefully a breakthrough by the key negotiators next week, and we'll be online here to talk about it and also issue a legislative alert when a bipartisan deal does get produced.


Speaking of anticipation, this is the time of year when everyone has an eye on the appropriations process. Are the spending bills going to move? Are they going to be held up on the Hill? You have some late breaking news about all of that.


So in a shocking development this week, the House Appropriations Committee produced the FY24 Ag bill. This bill funds federal agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration, and important programs such as the WIC program. Overall funding levels for this Ag bill is about a 33.6% cut from FY23 levels, so it's pretty significant in the proposed reductions that are included in this legislation.

We're digging through to better understand the actual impact this bill would have on programs. However, it's really important for our listeners to understand that this is the first step in the appropriations process. As you all know, the House produces a bill, then the Senate will produce a bill, and then negotiations will be ongoing. But any bill that needs to get signed into law must have 60 votes, so must be bipartisan.

This bill is not bipartisan. It's a very partisan bill. It also includes a number of policy writers, so it restricts FDA from putting prohibitions on flavored and menthol cigarettes, for example. It also includes a rider that interferes with a science-based review process for WIC food packages. And these two provisions, they will not get signed into law; and these overall funding cuts, they also will not get signed into law. But it's an important indicator of where the House priorities are and that they actually are going to stick to their plan to significantly reduce discretionary spending this upcoming year.


The House is busy. They had a hearing recently on PAHPA reauthorization--we heard Jeffrey Ekoma talk a few weeks ago about the Senate taking up that issue. What's going on in the House with that?


So the House hearing focused on the U.S. ability to respond to future public health threats. The committee members expressed interest in the Strategic National Stockpile, drug supply chain, cybersecurity in the healthcare sector, and methods to detect emerging threats. The witnesses for this hearing explained what methods failed during the public health crisis and what is needed to prevent and respond to future crises, such as data modernization--which is an ASTHO priority--increasing funding for the Strategic National Stockpile, and addressing supply chain transparency. Where we are right now with PAHPA is the Senate had their hearing, the House had their hearing, and bills will now be produced so we can respond to them.

And staff remain optimistic that this legislation will be coming out soon, but there's a lot to do that Congress has on their to do list right now. So, I'm not sure if we're going to meet the deadline of getting these programs are authorized by the end of September. It's not looking highly likely.


Well, we know one thing--you will be here to tell us exactly what's happening most every week, if not every week. It's good that it's Friday, right?


Exactly. Time to rest up and get ready for what's to come next week, and probably going to be a big deal week in terms of the debt ceiling negotiations.


We'll keep track of all of that. Thanks again for joining us, Carolyn Mullen, and take care.


Thanks so much.



Also today, agencies can learn more about the benefits of partnering with healthcare and public health to address vaccine disparities in their communities during a webinar planned for Wednesday, June 21. Teams that were part of ASTHO's Vaccine Equity Project will discuss how partnerships helped them increase immunization uptake among racial and ethnic groups and rural populations. You can sign up using the link in the show notes.


Finally this morning, ASTHO reports at least 10 state legislators have considered bills to ban flavored tobacco products. The update is included in a STAT News article about a lawsuit filed by tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds against a California law banning those products. We've got a link to the story in the show notes.


That'll do it for today's newscast. We are 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.


AJ Pearlman JD

Director, Public Health AmeriCorps, AmeriCorps

Carolyn Mullen

Senior Vice President, Government Affairs & PR, ASTHO