A Funding Crisis for Public Health and Safety

State-by-State and Federal Public Health Funding Facts and Recommendations

In this report, the Trust for America’s Health examines public health funding and key health facts in states around the country, finding funding for public health has declined significantly since the Great Recession.

Spending on Public Health is Insufficient

Flat Federal Funding

In Fiscal Year (FY) 2017, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) budget was $7.1504 billion ($21.95 per person). Adjusting for inflation, CDC’s core budget—not including the Prevention and Public Health Fund—has been essentially flat for the last decade.

Because much of CDC’s budget is distributed to states and localities, the impact of budget cuts is experienced directly at the state and local level. Of the roughly 75 percent of CDC funds that go to states and local communities, support ranges from a low of $5.74 per person in Missouri to a high of $114.38 per person in Alaska.

In addition, 12 percent of CDC’s budget consists of the Prevention and Public Health Fund, with about $625 million a year of that directed to state and local efforts. From FY 2013 through FY 2027, the Prevention Fund will receive nearly $12 billion less than the law intended.

Within CDC, the Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) Cooperative Agreement Program is the only federal program that supports the work of state and local health departments to prepare for and respond to emergencies. Except for one- time, short-term funding to contain the Ebola and Zika viruses, core emergency preparedness funding has been cut by more than one-third (from $940 million in FY 2002 to $667 million in FY 2017) since the program was established.

State Public Health Funding Declining

Spending for public health by states has been declining.  Based on a TFAH analysis (adjusted for inflation), 31 states made cuts to their public health budgets from FY 2015-2016 to FY 2016-2017.  Only 19 states and Washington, D.C. maintained or increased their budgets, making it hard for states to compensate for reduced federal funding.

According to the report, state public health spending is actually lower in 2016-2017 than it was in 2008-2009, as some of the funding cuts that occurred during the Great Recession have not been fully restored—and federal funding has been essentially flat (almost half of state public health spending comes from federal funds).

Local Public Health Funding Decreasing

Since 2008, local health departments (LHDs) have lost 55,590 staff due to layoffs or attrition. In addition, about 25 percent of LHDs reported a lower FY 2016 budget than the previous year, with fewer LHDs reporting an increase in their budget for the current year as compared to the previous.


The report includes eight key recommendations:

  1. Increase Funding for Public Health – at the Federal, State and Local Levels
  2. Preserve the Prevention and Public Health Fund
  3. Prepare for Public Health Emergencies and Pandemics
  4. Establish a Standing Public Health Emergency Response Fund
  5. Build a National Resilience Strategy to Combat Deaths of Despair
  6. Prevent and Reduce Chronic Disease
  7. Support Better Health and Top Local Priorities in Every Community
  8. Expand the Use of Evidence-Based, High-Impact Strategies to Improve Health in Every Community