Biden to invest $7.4B to boost public health workforce to better prepare for future outbreaks

The Biden administration plans to invest more than $7 billion from the American Rescue Plan to expand the public health workforce in an effort to better prepare the country for future pandemics.

The funding, announced today by the White House, will allow the U.S. to expand its public health workforce—creating tens of thousands of jobs to support vaccinations, testing, contact tracing and community outreach—and strengthen America’s future public health infrastructure, according to a White House press release.

The massive investment comes as the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has shone a harsh light on the under-investment in public health over the past several decades.

“We have had historical underfunding of the public health systems for decades and lack of urgency to solve these problems. The current pandemic of course has changed that. I cannot think of where the opportunity and importance for building it back is more vital than with the public health systems as we look at them now,” said Micky Tripathi, the national coordinator for Health IT within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), during a Health IT Advisory Committee meeting Thursday.

RELATED: 3 major health items included in Biden’s budget request

The administration plans to invest $4.4 billion to allow states and localities to expand their over-stretched public health departments with additional staff to support COVID-19 response efforts. The money will support disease intervention specialists to do contact tracing, manage cases and support outbreak investigations. Of that funding, states will get $3.4 billion to quickly add staff to support critical COVID-19 response efforts—including vaccination outreach and administration efforts, testing and contact tracing, epidemiologists and data scientists.

Dedicated funding, to the tune of $500 million, will go toward hiring school nurses to help schools safely reopen.

The White House also has earmarked $400 million to develop the next generation of public health leaders by creating a Public Health AmeriCorps. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and AmeriCorps will work together to build a diverse pipeline for the public health workforce. The partnership will capitalize on AmeriCorps’ experience managing some of the most prominent public service and workforce development programs in the nation while benefiting from CDC’s technical expertise as the country’s leading public health agency, White House officials said.

Funding also will support expanding CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service, a program that equips workers to identify and contain public health outbreaks.

RELATED: Community health workers, often overlooked, bring trust to the pandemic fight

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT within HHS will invest $80 million to train public health professionals to help modernize the public health data infrastructure, with a focus on recruiting from minority-serving institutions and universities.

With $337 million from the American Rescue Plan, the CDC will strengthen the public health laboratory workforce pipeline by expanding the current public health laboratory fellowship programs for laboratory science graduates and implementing a new public health internship program for undergraduate students.

The CDC also will get $3 billion in funding to create a new grant program to provide under-resourced health departments with the support they need to hire staff and build a strong public health workforce. This grant program will offer community health workers and others hired for the COVID-19 response an opportunity to continue their careers beyond the pandemic as public health professionals. 

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