Secure funding to enhance and
Funding to Sustain the
Mission of Public Health Laboratories
2021 was a banner year for funding for public health and public health laboratories, with unprecedented levels of federal support on multiple fronts.
One of the biggest boosts came from the American Rescue Plan, which included $7.6 billion to support the public health workforce. Of this, APHL received $282 million for its Public Health Laboratory Workforce Pipeline Project, which includes a large expansion of the APHL-CDC Laboratory Fellowship Program and the launch of a new internship program. The programs will expose young professionals to opportunities and careers in public health laboratories while bolstering the workforce required to support high-need public health projects in laboratories across the country.
Through ongoing conversations with federal agency and White House staff, APHL played an influential role in developing and structuring the fellowship and internship programs. This level of support promises to reshape the public health workforce, said Peter Kyriacopoulos, APHL’s chief policy officer. “This activity is organization-defining. We have never had this level of funding support for this important workforce pipeline engagement.”
The American Rescue Plan also provided additional support for the Data Modernization Initiative (DMI) to update and enhance the public health data and surveillance infrastructure/systems throughout the country. It included $500 million for data modernization and a new disease forecasting center based at CDC to advance the use of public health data in disease modeling, forecasting and outbreak analysis. When combined with monies from previous appropriations bills and the CARES Act, that brings the total federal funding to date for DMI to about $900 million over a period of just two years, compared with the original $1 billion commitment to be provided over 10 years.
These initial investments are already starting to improve data systems, especially at the federal level. However, the full benefit of such federal improvements will rely on modernization of state and local systems as well, highlighting the need for a broader commitment to build and maintain the needed technology, infrastructure and workforce at all levels of the public health system. With updated need assessments closer to $8 billion, APHL and a coalition of partners, including the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, National Association of County and City Health Officials, Big Cities Health Coalition and more, are continuing to advocate for ongoing support. “We have had a very comprehensive dialogue ongoing for the past two years to make sure that we all have the same information and are coming together and shaping how we can meet this challenge,” Kyriacopoulos said. “We’re not the first to try to make large-scale electronic data improvements, but we have the broad support and engagement of all the key players to make it successful.”
Public health laboratories will also benefit from the Build Back Better Act, which includes $1.4 billion for public health laboratory construction and modernization. Even as the pandemic response highlighted the crucial role of public health laboratories, it exposed aging infrastructure and shortfalls in existing support. The ability to renovate, expand and improve laboratory facilities will build capacity and form the basis for a more robust public health system moving forward.
Lastly, the fiscal year 2022 appropriations bills offer a strong showing of support for public health, with funds designated for data modernization and workforce and additional money for public health, infrastructure and capacity—$1 billion in the House bill and $600 million in the Senate bill.
“Funding for the pandemic response has expanded laboratory workforces, in some cases even doubling staffing, to finally reach adequate levels to manage core laboratory services. What that shows us is that this is the level of support laboratories should have already had,” said Kyriacopoulos. “These provisions in the appropriations bills are the first step in assuring the continuation of this adequate funding beyond the public health emergency.”