Director of Health for the Central Connecticut Health District, Charles Brown, says he has been here before: frustrated about what he calls a lack of state funding for local public health systems.
This year, in the middle of response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Brown said that he learned that the state would not be providing health districts with the amount of funding they were expecting.
"It really was demoralizing," said Brown. "They have been chipping away at this for years, but to do that in the midst of a pandemic is just, to me, ridiculous."
According to state statute, local health districts should receive $1.85 per capita in state funding. However, according to Brown and Stephen Mansfield, director of health for the Ledge Light Health District, the state has not funded 100% of the statutory rate in years.
Last year, the state funded 90% of the rate, or a 10% reduction. This year, the state is funding 91.5% of the statutory rate, or an 8.5% reduction.
"It seems an odd time that the local public health departments should be getting less money," said Mansfield.
"Connecticut needs to fund local health departments and districts at least at the statutory level to avert the future crisis of agencies unable to perform our basic public health responsibilities," said Brown.
Director of Communications for the Office of Governor Ned Lamont, Max Reiss, wrote to NBC Connecticut acknowledging that the local health departments are the state's boots on the ground when it comes to fighting COVID-19. He said that based on population changes, the funding for this year at 91.5% will allow for an increase over funding for last year.
Reiss also said that the, "the state has committed tens of millions in CAREs Act funds to support local health departments during this crisis, honored the appropriation for annual allocations, provided support for reimbursement of allowable expenses through the Municipal COVID Relief Fund program, and that will continue."
Brown and Mansfield said that their departments have seen about $50,000 and $41,000 respectively in COVID-19 specific funds. They also pointed out that any money to help with COVID-19 response is emergency funding while the annual money from the state is used to fund their foundation: the basic essential services.
"You start to undercut that foundation and everything you build upon it to do contact tracing, everything you build upon it to do mass vaccinations is really in jeopardy," said Brown.
Brown and Mansfield are now working alongside other directors of health across the state with the immediate goal of having funding restored to the statutory level for this fiscal year, amounting to about $390,000 statewide.
Senator Paul Formica (R-20th District) said that he is opposed to an 8.5% reduction from the statutory rate. He sits on the appropriations committee, however the 2020 legislative session was cut short because of COVID-19.
"I am sending a letter to the governor asking for reinstatement of those funds," said Formica.
Brown and Mansfield said that their long term goal is to work with the state to take a hard look at how local public health systems are funded.
"It is the fact that we could do so much more and not have us brought to the brink of breaking and that is what we are risking," said Brown. "Without having that foundation being a strong foundation, we risk breaking it at a crucial time."
Full Statement From Governor's Office
“The Lamont Administration agrees that our local health departments are our boots on the ground when it comes to fighting COVID-19, and they have continued to provide incredible input and services to their residents as this pandemic has unfolded. The Lamont administration has not decreased funding for local departments of public health. The full appropriation of $4.2 million authorized by the General Assembly will be distributed in FY21. The legislature funded the Local and District Departments of Public Health at 90% of the statutory formula in FY20. Based on population changes, the FY21 funding will allow for an increase in funding over FY20 levels at 91.5%. This pandemic has demonstrated to our municipalities, our state, and our country that funding for public health must be considered essential, and protected during difficult budget times. The state has committed tens of millions in CAREs Act funds to support local health departments during this crisis, honored the appropriation for annual allocations, provided support for reimbursement of allowable expenses through the Municipal COVID Relief Fund program, and that will continue. The Lamont Administration will work to make sure the state has the resources necessary at the local level to address a possible second wave of coronavirus and be proactive in planning and ensuring proper resources are secured for future pandemics and outbreaks.” - Max Reiss, Director of Communications.