[MARCH 24, 2006]
Local health officials are joining their
counterparts across the state in calling for Illinois Gov. Rod
Blagojevich and the General Assembly to address what they see as
"inadequate" funding in the proposed 2007 state budget for vital
heath services such as restaurant inspections, immunization clinics
and water well inspections.
The Illinois Association
of Public Health Administrators, which represents about 84 certified
local health departments in Illinois, including Logan County's, is
asking the state to increase the allocation in the fiscal 2007
budget's Local Health Protection Grant line item by $10 million. The
line item currently includes a $14 million allocation.
Officials say that funding for this line item has not increased
in six or seven years, even though the cost of providing health
services has increased dramatically. A news release from the
Illinois Association of Public Health Administrators states that the
governor has introduced more than $250 million in new programs in
his proposed 2007 budget but has "neglected" current underfunded
programs that provide basic health services.
Alice Foss, governmental affairs director for the association,
said the group thought that the governor might include increases for
these services when he listed health care as one of the top
priorities of his administration. She said that when this did not
occur, the association decided it was time to put pressure on state
officials to increase the funding level. "That grant line has been
stagnant for a number of years," Foss said. "Over time, it's grown
to become almost an unfunded mandate."
According to Greg Chance, president of the association, the
current funding level covers only about 33 percent of the expenses
for providing mandated services such as restaurant inspections,
childhood immunizations and infectious disease investigations.
Furthermore, the funding restrictions could affect how local health
departments respond to natural disasters, bioterrorism, disease
outbreaks or other emergencies, officials say.
For example, the Logan County Health Department receives about
$56,287 annually from this budget line item. However, the cost of
providing services in fiscal 2005 was about $272,163, according to
Mark Hilliard, county health administrator
Because of this funding disparity, the health department has had
to increase fees for certain services or use funding from the health
department's general fund to cover expenses. Also, in some cases,
the department has had to limit the number of immunization clinics
or restaurant inspections it can conduct annually, Hilliard said.
"We've been cut back and cut back," Hilliard said. "It gets quite
difficult when there are new programs implemented, and they're not
supporting existing ones."
Hilliard suggests that the requested $10 million could come from
state tobacco settlement revenue. But regardless of the source, the
money is desperately needed by local health departments to provide
essential public services, he said. "It's not just a county problem,
it's a state problem as well," Hilliard added.