Commentary, NC Budget and Tax Center, Trump Administration

Does it take a pandemic to make us realize we are in this together?

The worldwide concern over the coronavirus has reached the United States and North Carolina. With it should come a consideration of the policy choices that can make sure that we contain the potential spread of the illness, as well as build systems that would serve us well under other public health threats such as flu season and promote the well-being of every person in our state.

The media coverage around the novel coronavirus has included two key policy areas: the need for universal health care coverage that is affordable and connects people and communities to the care they need, and the protections and supports that allow people to take time off from work without fear of job loss in order to care for themselves and their families.

Cuts to our public health infrastructure at the state level in recent years have undermined our readiness for the public health challenges that come with the coronavirus, such as the need for new testing, public information, and institutional planning.

Even as the country is experiencing a bad flu season and this new threat, the federal administration proposed cuts to the Centers for Disease Control of 9% overall (7% for global health programs) compared to the most recently enacted budget. These cuts, on top of decades of funding decisions that have largely held flat the investment in this critical infrastructure, have created barriers to anticipating outbreaks, deploying information, and testing and containing the spread.

In North Carolina, funding for the state’s public health division has fallen by 28% between Fiscal Year 2008-09 and FY 2018-2019, the last enacted budget.

As we have learned in so many areas of the state budget, cuts to our collective commitment have two effects. First, they reduce the availability of programs and services. Second, less discussed but equally important, is the way in which cuts to public investments over time erode the ability of the system to serve their functions effectively and efficiently.

There is a cost to prioritizing tax cuts over the well-being of North Carolinians. That cost is felt more acutely in times of emergencies and outbreaks, but make no mistake, their slow damage to the infrastructure in our communities that holds us together is ever present.

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