Durbin, Matsui Introduce Bill to Increase Public Health Workforce

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) joined Congresswoman Doris Matsui today in introducing the Public Health Workforce Act of 2009. This legislation aims to increase the pipeline of qualified public health workers at the federal, state, local and tribal levels by offering scholarships to students going into the public health field. It also encourages current employees to stay in the public health field by providing loan repayments in exchange for a commitment of a designated number of years of service in public health. Senator Durbin has introduced similar legislation in previous Congresses.


“The recent outbreak of Influenza A H1N1 virus which has infected thousands of Americans and caused nearly a hundred deaths worldwide demonstrates why an adequately prepared public health workforce is critical to protect the health of the nation,” Durbin said. “Our nation’s ability to prevent, respond to, and recover from this threat as well as future challenges is largely dependent on a strong pipeline of public health professionals. This bill provides incentives to help recruit and retain these vital workers. We can no longer ignore our nation’s need for more qualified and dedicated public health workers.”


“The public health workforce is responsible for some of the most important tasks protecting the lives of Americans. This vital cache of workers helps keep California—and states across the nation—safe and secure. After recent public health emergencies, from H1N1 to Avian flu, we are keenly aware of the need to be vigilant in our efforts to prepare for potential emergencies. I am glad to have Senator Durbin as an ally in the fight to ensure that we have an adequately trained, robust workforce to address any serious threats that lie ahead,” said Matsui.


“As the growing ranks of uninsured Americans look to the public health system as a safety net and as the nation continues to deal with the recent H1N1 Influenza outbreak, we urgently need a strong public health workforce to answer these national challenges,” said Jeff Levi, Executive Director of Trust for America’s Health. “Public health workers are vital to protecting our nation’s health and economy, but funding cuts and layoffs have stretched them too thin. This legislation would help stabilize and grow America’s public health labor force so that every American can count on the public health system when they need it. Trust for America’s Health would like to thank Sen. Durbin and Rep. Matsui for their dedication to building a stronger public health system.”


The average age of lab technicians, epidemiologists, environmental health experts, microbiologists, IT specialists, public health administrators and others who make up the public health workforce is 47 years older than the average age of the nation’s workforce. Over the next five years, 39% of the Illinois Department of Public Health workforce will be eligible to retire, and the average age of a new hire is 41 years old.


To encourage young people to enter the public health field, the legislation:


• Authorizes scholarships to encourage students to pursue careers in public health, including payment of tuition and other reasonable expenses such as books, fees, equipment and laboratory expenses; and a stipend of up to $1,200 per month


• Offers up to $35,000 a year in loan repayment for a relevant health professions degree or certificate in exchange for working for at least three year full time in federal, state, local or tribal public health agencies or health centers;


• Allows the Secretary of Health and Human Services to award grants to state, local and tribal public health agencies to operate their own public health workforce loan repayment programs;


• Allows the Secretary to award grants to colleges and universities that offer relevant programs such as infectious disease science, medicine, public health and veterinary medicine for scholarship awards to mid-career public health professionals to maintain or upgrade their training in public health;


• Establishes an on-line catalogue of public health workforce employment opportunities in the federal government through the Office of Personnel Management website.