In a letter sent to the Washington State Congressional Delegation, Gov. Jay Inslee asked members to invest in public health infrastructure as part of the president’s proposed “American Jobs Plan.” Inslee also pointed to a need for housing, broadband and food security.
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According to the White House website:
The American Jobs Plan is an investment in America that will create millions of good jobs, rebuild our country’s infrastructure and position the United States to out-compete China. Public domestic investment as a share of the economy has fallen by more than 40%t since the 1960s. The American Jobs Plan will invest in America in a way we have not invested since we built the interstate highways and won the Space Race.”
In his letter, Inslee points to 13 areas that are a priority to the state. But says that these 13 areas are just the focus of Washington’s infrastructure development.
Washington State is ready to act quickly upon the availability of federal dollars, and I urge your strong consideration of these strategic investment priorities as you shape legislation. These thirteen categories represent our highest priorities in this process, though they are not intended to diminish other worthy proposals you may receive in the months ahead. I am particularly pleased that President Biden will make additional proposals in the coming weeks to aid workers, families, and children and strongly support their inclusion in infrastructure legislation.”
The letter also says that America has underinvested in its foundational public health infrastructure, pointing to the fact that between 1980 and 2019 per capita expenditures on personal health grew by almost $9,000 while governmental public health activities only increased by $270.
Inslee says in the letter that this has been exacerbated by the pandemic, but that the state is committed to improving its public health capabilities.
The costs of that underinvestment have been starkly illustrated during the COVID-19 pandemic, when stockpile shortages, insufficient testing, and inadequate surveillance left frontline healthcare workers and patients without the treatment and tools to fight the disease. Washington State has committed to improving care in recent years, including by working to integrate behavioral and mental health with physical health.”
Inslee asked for investments from the federal government not only in one-time capital investments, but also predictable, sustained increases in funds. He said the result would lead to modernized care, improved outcomes, especially for disproportionately impacted communities and prepare the state for the next pandemic.
The investments to public health would go to state capital budget programs to allow agencies to undertake projects that will address social determinants of health, which Inslee says “will simultaneously create and protect jobs.” There would also be investments into updating and upgrading facilities to strengthen infection control in medical facilities and make them more energy efficient.
There will also be investments into strengthening public health data management and into training and retraining health care workers at all levels, particularly in childcare, behavioral health and long-term care.
Inslee also called out the need for investments into affordable housing:
More than 128,000 extremely low-income households pay more than 50% of their income for housing in our state. Federal investments, paired with incentives to improve zoning and reduce carbon use, would help to address the large unmet need for affordable housing in Washington State. Any infrastructure package should ensure that funding for new construction of affordable housing prioritizes energy-efficiency and weatherization improvements, as well as community facility investments that strengthen resiliency and center equity.”
Equity was also a central part of his call for federal investments into broadband expansion:
Existing inequities and inefficiencies in broadband investment meant that the learning loss impacts of COVID-19 were spread inequitably, hitting already disadvantaged communities the hardest. An infrastructure package that seeks to effectively address broadband must include reforms that ensure broader access in addition to affordability, more complete adoption, and a more inclusive definition of who is unserved and underserved.”
Inslee also pointed out that broadband access was not the only issue exacerbated by the pandemic, there was also an increase in the number of people who went hungry during the pandemic.
While food security has not been a traditional candidate for infrastructure funding, the increase in hunger during the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates the need to think expansively. Flexible, sustained funding to expand the Emergency Food Assistance Program (E-FAP) can help strengthen state infrastructure by expanding emergency food streams and reducing overreliance on the non-profit system that has been pushed to the brink during the pandemic.”
These investments into food security would include expanded refrigeration and dry-storage capacity, especially at new and retrofitted affordable housing or community resilience hubs. Inslee says investments in these facilities “could help support access to nutritious food and health services in everyday life and flexible capacity in emergencies, as well as new and existing programs to alleviate food deserts.”
Some of the other infrastructure investments called for by Inslee include investments in early learning and education facilities, transportation, climate and clean energy, workforce and clean water infrastructure.
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