Important state public health functions such as tobacco control, immunizations, and child health will be severely undercut if the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) is forced to cut its budget by 5% in the wake of a global pandemic.
That is the message from the Texas Public Health Coalition in response to a directive from state leadership for DSHS to reduce its 2022-23 budget.
A 5% cut would affect $32.9 million in public health services over the next biennium, DSHS has said.
“Cutting nearly $33 million from the state’s top public health agency simply should not be on the table during a pandemic. Our state needs dependable investment in preventing and eliminating disease threats at all times,” said the statement from coalition Chair Jason V. Terk, MD. “Furthermore, funding pandemic response efforts should not come at the expense of cuts to DSHS’ other important areas of work.”
In May, Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and House Speaker Greg Bonnen directed Texas agencies to cut 5% from their two-year budget for 2020-21. The budget directive is a response to the drastically low state tax collections during the COVID-19 pandemic.
DSHS, along with several other state agencies, is exempt from cuts to the 2020-21 budget because of the pandemic. However, DSHS will be required to reduce its budget for fiscal year 2022 through 2023, cuts that will take effect beginning Sept. 1, 2021.
“The Texas Legislature must maintain consistent funding for DSHS’ existing functions and commit to filling any funding gaps for pandemic response as long as needed,” the coalition’s statement says. “The lifesaving work DSHS performs has never been more clearly on display, and our coalition will fight to see DSHS has every tool it needs to execute its mission.”
Many Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) functions were not exempted from the current 5% budget reduction directive. However, Medicaid and CHIP benefits and eligibility, as well as behavioral health services, were spared from this year’s cuts.
The Texas Medical Association and dozens of state specialty societies urged HHSC in June to protect physicians’ Medicaid payments and women’s health programs from agency cuts.
The Texas Public Health Coalition, of which TMA is a founding member, consists of more than 30 health professional organizations and health-focused organizations dedicated to disease prevention and health promotion.