Mackenzie Hawkins

Mayor Justin Elicker and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., hosted a Friday press conference criticizing the Trump administration’s proposed federal budget, with a specific emphasis on cuts to public health spending amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

Friday’s press conference also featured appearances from New Haven Health Director Maritza Bond and Acting Community Services Administrator Dr. Mehul Dalal, whose appointment awaits confirmation from the Board of Alders. The four officials issued a harsh rebuke of significant cuts to the National Institute of Health and Center for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as reductions in U.S. contributions to global health programs like the World Health Organization. Blumenthal underscored that Trump’s budget is merely a proposal and that bipartisan cooperation has successfully prevented similar cuts in the past.

“The proposed cuts in Donald Trump’s budget … eviscerate many of the social services that the federal government has provided for … communities like New Haven for many years,” Elicker said on Friday. “Leadership in our country is turning its back on our community.”

Trump’s latest proposed budget cuts NIH funding by 7 percent and CDC funding by 9 percent. The budget also features a $3 billion cut in investments in global health programs, such as the WHO — which has been responsible for large portion of international medical presence in China and would lose 53 percent of U.S. contributions under the Trump budget.

Specifically, Blumenthal highlighted a $35 million cut in the Infectious Diseases Rapid Response Reserve Fund — which is the primary funding mechanism for combatting the coronavirus and other similar outbreaks, according to a Senate Appropriations report — and an $18 million cut from the Hospital Preparedness Program budget. This budget is “the only source of federal funding that supports regional health care system preparedness,” according to the program’s website.

Blumenthal said on Friday that these cuts are “tantamount to public health suicide” and that his dismay over the Trump budget is shared by many Republican colleagues. He added that he is hopeful that bipartisan opposition to the budget will help prevent cuts that were proposed and defeated in last year’s negotiations.

He went on to say that local and state authorities will bear the burden of cuts in federal spending. Bond echoed this statement — 59 percent of New Haven’s health budget relies on “special funds,” she said. Similarly, Dalal said that the Community Services Administration is heavily reliant upon regular updates from the CDC in its efforts to keep the public informed.

“The scientists and the public health professionals at the CDC guide everyone’s work here,” Dalal said. “[The current coronavirus outbreak] is an evolving situation [with] many unknowns. At the local and state level, we don’t have the resources to discover what those unknowns are.”

While Elicker and Blumenthal focused heavily on public health, they also answered questions about other concerning parts of the budget. For Elicker’s part, the mayor condemned cuts to Section 8 housing — the federal government’s primary mode of rental assistance for low income families — as well as cuts to the Departments of Labor and Transportation.

Blumenthal said that the budget’s “envision[ed] end to college loan assistance” is particularly salient to him. The budget almost entirely wipes out programs that allow certain public-sector and non-profit workers to cancel student loan debt. These changes are part of a $5.6 billion slash to U.S. Department of Education funding.

As of Friday’s press conference, 15 people in the U.S. had tested positive for the recent coronavirus. Connecticut has zero confirmed cases.

 

Mackenzie Hawkins | mackenzie.hawkins@yale.edu