Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell (Courtesy photo)

The COVID-19 pandemic provided painful lessons on how health disparities worsen and can become fatal in times of crisis for Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities and people of color who continue to be disproportionately impacted by health challenges due to systemic racism. Four years later, as South LA continues to try to recover, it appears that we are not applying the lessons learned during the pandemic and can potentially be going backward. Instead of maintaining the funding for proven health services and programs that are a safety net for thousands of residents, the Governor’s proposed budget, which will be finalized later this month, plans to eliminate core investments in public health. 

The Governor has proposed over $350 million in state budget cuts to The Future of Public Health Investment – this was first established in the state budget for Fiscal Year 2022-2023. The Future of Public Health Investment allows public health departments throughout the state, including Los Angeles County, to make strategic investments to expand and improve our public health infrastructure, overall efficiency and effectiveness of the department’s operations; develop and maintain programs and partners that directly address the needs of under-resourced and disproportionately impacted communities; and build and retain a skilled and stable workforce for future public health emergencies. 

In Los Angeles County, cuts to public health would result in a $47 million loss in funding for our Department of Public Health. This means eliminating over 200 staff conducting essential disease investigations, enhancing disease tracking and responsiveness, and communicating vital information in multiple languages and across diverse cultures to thousands of residents.

It also means  60,000 youth won’t receive social and emotional health services, 24,000 residents won’t be referred to healthcare services through the public health call center, the near complete elimination of support services such as the newly established CalWORKs Doula program to help expecting mothers, the destabilization of the Home Visitation System that allows trained home visitors to provide support and education to families to promote positive parenting and improve child health and development.

In my district, Los Angeles County’s Second District – where the highest rates of chronic health issues persist, including heart disease, diabetes, and asthma, to name a few – these cuts have real-life consequences. For example, over 200 families alone would lose access to home visiting services that have been shown to improve child outcomes during the first three years of life. In addition, at least five staple organizations that are service providers in our district that rely on funding from the County to help stand in the gaps where the County needs support delivering services would risk losing staff and no longer reaching the communities that rely on them.

These reductions would disproportionately impact the constituents in my district and other residents of color.   As we continue to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, our country, and state have experienced the tragic impacts of understaffed and under-resourced local public health departments. These cuts would reverse strategic investments the Department of Public Health made to expand and improve its capacity to serve millions of residents and retain a skilled and stable workforce that can respond to future public health emergencies.

Having served as Chair of the Senate Budget Fiscal Committee during my tenure in the State Legislature, I have seen firsthand how hard it is to bring back programs that work after cutting them in an attempt to make ends meet during tough budget years. The hard truth is that we end up paying more in the long run for shortsighted cuts to vital programs like the ones tied to public health funding.

Thankfully, the State Assembly and Senate Budget Committees recently rejected proposed cuts to public health programs. This is a two-way deal so now the ball is in the Governor’s court. Now is not the time to eliminate the $300 million in investments in public health. California must continue to support and invest in its public health workforce to ensure robust and capable public health departments across the state, especially in Los Angeles County – the largest County in the nation. We must reverse this potential elimination in order to move forward and achieve a truly equitable recovery.