Monday, November 21, 2022

Some rural areas reject federal money, citing overreach of federal agency and government mistrust

Elko County (Wikipedia)
Elko County, Nevada, has not had a public health department for more than 15 years, but county commissioners rejected a $500,000 grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "citing concerns about government overreach. Commissioners and members who opposed the grant said Elko didn’t need more public health resources or a health district or department. They said they were concerned about giving up local autonomy and growing bureaucracy. They also expressed mistrust of the CDC," reports Jazmin Orozco Rodriguez of Kaiser Health News.

Elko County wasn’t the only one who refused to pursue federal aid. "Experts say they were surprised and concerned to see the rare local or state leader, swayed by political partisanship, dismiss funding opportunities for historically limited public health systems," Rodriguez writes. "Officials in Idaho, Iowa, and New Hampshire rejected Covid relief money, their decisions often accompanied by political pronouncements about federal government overreach. . . . A survey of local governments in 15 states conducted by the National League of Cities found more than 200 small governments declined pandemic relief funds."

The Elko County commissioners received letters from health officials and pleas from residents at public meetings asking them to accept the federal money. "Other local leaders saw the need for increased public health resources amid the pandemic. The Elko City Council wrote a letter of support for the CDC grant the day before the commission rejected it," Rodriguez reports.

“Partisan politics has poisoned the well to a point that we’re willing to sacrifice the health of our citizens,” said Brian Castrucci, president and CEO of the de Beaumont Foundation, a national nonprofit that advocates for public health policy. “Is the political grandstanding worth it?”

Adriane Casalotti, chief of government and public affairs for the National Association of County and City Health Officials, told Rodriguez, "Communities across the country have generally clamored for increased funding during the pandemic, which strained already underfunded and understaffed public health infrastructure. In recent months, I’d say, we’ve heard of a handful of health departments that either would not apply for or couldn’t accept … specific grants."

Polarization remains an obstacle, Castrucci told Rodriguez: "This has become a holy war, this has become a war of right and wrong. I don’t know how to get through that to a place where we are prioritizing the health of our nation.”

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