Focusing The Government On Public Health: Menendez Introduces Two Legislative Initiatives

Focusing The Government On Public Health: Menendez Introduces Two Legislative Initiatives

Bills would help assess and improve the impact government programs and agencies have on public health

Washington - U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) this week introduced two pieces of legislation to improve the relationship between the federal government and public health in the United States. The Health Impact Assessment Act and the Public Health Coordinating Council Act would study, reform and help improve the way in which the federal government understands the impact of its programs on public health and would help the government design programs that avoid negative impacts on public health.

"When we talk about public health, we are talking not only about potential injury and illness in our own families, but the collective health of our communities, environment and economy," said Senator Menendez. "Too often, when a federal program is implemented or when an agency acts, the focus is too narrow and the impact on public health is ignored. We need to give federal agencies, lawmakers and the public better information about how federal programs impact public health and the tools to make sure they can work to avoid harming the public's health."

"Government officials too often make health-related policy decisions without realizing it," said John Clymer, President of Partnership for Prevention. "Measures related to agriculture, transportation, housing or other areas frequently contain provisions that can either contribute to or prevent chronic disease and health disparities. It takes more than medicine to protect a community's health, and health impact assessments would help arm our decision-makers with the information they need to avoid causing inadvertent harm."

The Health Impact Assessment Act would do the following:

Through two GAO studies, the bill would identify best practices for assessing planning and impact of land use and building design, and social policy on community health.

  • Directs a GAO study to research best practices, standardized tools and models for health impact assessments as a method to promote health and reduce health disparities through social policy process, land use and the built environment.
  • Directs the GAO to review the positive and negative health consequences of federal policies and programs, and how to consider HIAs for any federally-funded project, at the federal, state or local level.

The bill would also create a national clearinghouse and demonstration program to improve the built environment and promote health.

  • The grant program will fund state and local health or planning departments to manage an HIA project in their state or municipality.
  • The clearinghouse will disseminate best practices, and provide technical assistance and training about the scope and uses of HIAs related to community planning and policy making.

The bill would also build CDC capacity to promote the HIA processes by developing guidance for potential health effects of social policy, land use and design, housing, and transportation policy and plans.

The Public Health Coordinating Council Act would do the following:

It proposes to create a National Public Health Interagency Coordinating Council (NPHICC) to facilitate and strengthen sustained communication and coordination across federal agencies. All federal agencies and departments with a program related to improving the public's health are included on the council. The council will recommend strategies to improve interagency collaboration such as:

  • Reviewing existing federal health programs and policies
  • Assuring efficiency and adequate funding
  • Sharing information, knowledge and data, and identifying gaps in comparable data and knowledge
  • Facilitating new partnerships and enhancing networks across federal agencies.

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