97: Announcing ASTHO’s 2022 Federal Policy Agenda

Carolyn Mullen, ASTHO’s Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and Public Relations, outlines the organization’s 2022 federal policy agenda and tells members what they ought to expect from Washington this year; ASTHO CEO Mike Fraser says...

Carolyn Mullen, ASTHO’s Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and Public Relations, outlines the organization’s 2022 federal policy agenda and tells members what they ought to expect from Washington this year; ASTHO CEO Mike Fraser says public health needs to spend more time thinking about communications and messaging; and ASTHO issues a report about period poverty, a growing public health concern.

ASTHO Document: 2022 Federal Legislative Agenda

National Academy of Medicine webpage: Public Health COVID-19 Impact Assessment

ASTHO Blog Article: Period Poverty – A Growing Public Health Concern

ASTHO logo



This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Thursday, January 13th, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson.

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


Public health has a higher profile on Capitol Hill because of the pandemic, but what does that mean for ASTHO's 2022 Federal Policy Agenda? In today's morning conversation, ASTHO's senior vice president of government affairs and public relations, Carolyn Mullen, outlines the plan and tells members what they ought to expect out of Washington in the new year.

ASTHO recently released its new legislative agenda for this year. What's the focus?


Our focus this year is really talking about racial and health equity with Congress and the administration, and social determinants of health, and creating disease-agnostic funding—so, innovative funding for public health infrastructure so we get away from this feast-or-famine funding cycle and really move to long-term, sustainable, flexible funding for public health departments throughout the country.


ASTHO spends a lot of time working on this document every year. Why do you do that? Why is it important?


Our legislative agenda is created by our board of directors and voted on and approved by them. It is both our sword and shield. It allows our team to be strategic and innovative and push the needle on items that our board agrees upon.

And then, it also enables us to say, "No." The state health officials are very popular in advocacy circles, and a lot of groups and members of Congress want us to endorse a lot of proposals and ideas; and our legislative agenda allows us to really keep their priorities in mind—our members' priorities—and keep us focused on moving the needle forward on key items.


And it's organized in tiers. Why is that the structure you've chosen? How does it help?


When I first got to ASTHO five years ago, we did not have a legislative agenda. So, the first thing that we did was take a look at all the organizations and what their priorities were and where we could support our affiliated members. And then where there were gaps, we decided that's where the state health officials could really lead. So, the items that are tier one are where we are leading, where we're investing a lot of time and resources and collateral materials such as the BHI packets.

And tier two is where we partner with other organizations who have a depth and wealth of experience, and we can sign on to letters or join them on the Hill as time and resources allow.

And then, tier three is where we're just monitoring, reporting on, providing blog updates, letting our members know what's happening in those spaces, but we aren't actively advocating or asking Congress to do anything on tier three priorities.


Big, final question. How easy is it going to be this year to get any of this—or all of it—through Congress?


This is going to be an extremely challenging year.

Congress punted on a lot of priorities until this year: they still have to vote on Build Back Better; they still have appropriations lingering that they need to vote on; and we're now in midterm election cycles. So, to achieve anything this year is going to be very hard and things are going to become extremely political as we go into the election cycle.



A report issued by the National Academy of Medicine about the pandemic is making the rounds again on social media, even though it was issued last April. ASTHO CEO Mike Fraser is one of several authors of the COVID-19 Impact Assessment. He says it holds up well even today—but adds if he were going to suggest any update, he'd include more information about communication.


The biggest challenge I think that we're facing right now, you know, isn't scientific—it's political and it's communications. And I think we need to spend a lot more time thinking about public health communications and the way public health communicates its messages, both to the general public but also to policymakers and politicians moving forward.

That's not explicit in this report—it's implicit—but I think adding the explicit need for public health professionals to simply and straightforwardly communicate with the public. It seems so obvious, but it's been such a challenge with changing guidance and new variants and people's fatigue and partisan debate about authority—all of that has just created massive confusion, unfortunately.


The report was one of the Academy's most downloaded documents last year.

You can read it using the link in the show notes.


Finally this morning, ASTHO has a new report about a growing public health concern for women. It's called period poverty; it's defined as the lack of access to sanitary products, appropriate facilities, and medically-sound information about menstruation. The health implications are serious.

You can read the report using the link in the show notes.


That'll do it for today's report.


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Be sure to join us again tomorrow morning for more ASTHO news and information.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great day.

Carolyn Mullen

Senior Vice President, Government Affairs & PR, ASTHO