WASHINGTON, D.C. —Today, in an effort to solve America's impending public health workforce shortage and strengthen its response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Tina Smith (D-MN) introduced legislation to build a stronger public health infrastructure.
Right now, America is facing an alarming public health workforce shortage. Local and state health departments have lost nearly a quarter (23 percent) of their workforce since 2008. Public health departments are also facing a looming retirement crisis, with almost a quarter of health department staff currently eligible for retirement and 55 percent of local public health professionals already over age 45. Experts also estimate that nearly half of the public health workforce is considering leaving their organization in the next five years.
The Strengthening the Public Health Workforce Act would reauthorize and improve a program created under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to provide education loan repayment assistance to people who work in a state, local, or Tribal public health department. The program—known as the Public Health Workforce Loan Repayment Program—was authorized from 2010-2015, but it was never funded.
Booker and Smith said the loan repayment incentive is especially important to public health departments during the current pandemic because a strong public workforce is needed to support critical activities like testing and contact tracing.
“Public health workers are an integral part of our nation’s health system - and that has never been more true as we respond to and start the recovery from COVID-19," said Sen. Booker. "Unfortunately, despite the critical role these essential workers play, their numbers are dwindling - since 2008, local and state health departments have lost nearly a quarter of their workforce. By strengthening the public health workforce loan repayment program, we can help attract and retain more public health professionals in state, local, and tribal health departments across the country."
“America needs a public health infrastructure that has the capacity to tackle COVID-19 head on,” said Sen. Smith. “And looking forward, we need a sustainable workforce that’s ready to address any future public health crisis. But right now we're facing a workforce shortage that's stretching many workers so thin that they're exhausted and overwhelmed. This is not how we should operate. We need more hands on deck. I’m going to fight to move this bill forward.”
“Health department staff are on the front lines of the coronavirus response, working around the clock to protect all of us. And they are doing so despite workforce cuts and tight budgets that make it difficult to recruit and retain the key talent needed to keep our communities healthy and safe. A federal Public Health Workforce Loan Repayment program is an important investment in strengthening local, state, and tribal health departments across the country. We thank Senators Smith and Booker for introducing this legislation to create a system to help recruit and retain talented professionals to these critical jobs to support the coronavirus response and to strengthen health department capacity in the years to come,” said Lori Tremmel Freeman, MBA, CEO, National Association of County and City Health Officials.
“It has been recognized for some time now that the governmental public health workforce is too small and recent events have highlighted the need for public health professionals working to protect our communities. The proposed Public Health Workforce Loan Repayment program will be an incentive to public health professionals to protect and improve the health of our communities and we appreciate Senator Booker’s support,” said Megan Avallone, President of New Jersey Association of County and City Health Officials and Director of Westfield Regional Health Department.
Specifically, the Strengthening the Public Health Workforce Act:
You can access a summary of the bill here.###