FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE August 16, 2011
PHILADELPHIA – Four key Philadelphia organizations – National Nursing Centers Consortium (NNCC), Public Citizens for Children and Youth, Council of Spanish Speaking Organizations, Inc, Southeast Asian Mutual Associations Coalition (SEAMAAC), Inc. have partnered to issue an open letter to US Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius regarding critical funding to major US cities. The letter appears below.
August 16, 2011
Dear Secretary Sebelius:
We urge you to reverse the CDC’s proposal to eliminate Philadelphia in addition to four other major US cities as potential awardees under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Healthy Homes and Lead Poisoning Prevention Program. Eliminating this funding is short-sighted and most likely will result in the near elimination of efforts to prevent children from being poisoned by lead and exposed to other home hazards, thereby increasing lead poisoning rates among our most vulnerable populations. These disproportionately include African-American, Latino, and refugee/immigrant children living in poverty. Lead poisoning, with its permanent, negative effects on health, learning and behavior, will cripple the hopes and abilities of these children to succeed in life. In-home asthma triggers such as mold, moisture and pest infestation will also continue to send children to the emergency room, resulting in high health care costs and lost school days and wages for low-income families.
CDC has historically funded 35 states, the District of Columbia and 5 cities (New York, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and Los Angeles County) for childhood lead poisoning prevention efforts. Philadelphia has received about $1.2 million each year for the past three years. In March, 2011, the CDC issued a Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) for states and cities to apply for lead and healthy homes funding. The NOFA reduced the maximum award to $600,000. Philadelphia submitted an application for $600,000. We have since learned that CDC plans to eliminate the funding to the five cities in order to reallocate funding within its own agency. We believe this decision will have detrimental effects on large populations of children, as these cities have the worst in-home environmental health issues in the country and the neediest residents. We estimate that this $3 million disinvestment in our poorest children will cost the nation at least 100-fold, or $300 million, in medical treatment, lost earnings, tax revenue, special education, lead-linked attention-deficit disorder and criminal activity.
Philadelphia has the highest percent of families living in poverty (27%) among the largest US cities. These families live in the oldest housing stock with some of the worst home health hazards. With 96% of the city’s housing units built before the 1978 federal ban on lead paint in residential housing, exposure to lead and other indoor environmental health hazards is endemic. The Philadelphia Department of Public Health recently visited a number of homes with lead poisoned children and found that 22% had roach infestations, 38% had rodent infestations, 39% had moisture and mold problems, 52% had someone who smoked in the home, and 43% had at least one family member with asthma. The 22.8% childhood asthma prevalence in Philadelphia is almost 75% higher than for the US as a whole (13.1%), with some low-income, predominantly minority neighborhoods in Philadelphia suffering asthma rates between 39% and 55%.
Philadelphia has been viewed as an extraordinary success story for its significant reduction in cases of childhood lead poisoning and has made its remarkable progress in reducing lead poisoning by pro-actively identifying lead hazards in children’s homes and removing them before a child is poisoned by lead, in addition to extensive education to at-risk families. In 1989 in Philadelphia, almost 90% of children tested had elevated blood lead levels. By 2009, this number had shrunk to 3%. This dramatic reduction is due to concerted efforts among government and nonprofit agencies in Philadelphia, aided by CDC funding for primary prevention efforts. These efforts include the highly successful Lead Safe Babies and Lead Safe Communities programs that identify pregnant women or families with a newborn baby and offer lead education, dust wipe testing and referral to remediation services. This nationally recognized program has been shown to: 1) significantly increase lead poisoning prevention knowledge and 2) significantly lower blood lead levels in children. In 2009, Lead Safe Babies served more than 1900 families in Philadelphia.
For Philadelphia, the elimination of direct CDC funding means that the Pennsylvania Department of Health (PA DOH) will now be responsible for lead poisoning prevention and healthy homes initiatives in Philadelphia while continuing to address high risk areas throughout the rest of the state. PA DOH will not, however receive any additional funding to cover Philadelphia. Instead it will be required to take on more with less, since the maximum grant award for states has also been capped at $600,000, down from Pennsylvania’s previous grant award of $688,000. Philadelphia community-based programs such as Lead Safe Babies and Lead Safe Communities will be nearly eliminated, causing lead poisoning rates to increase once more.
We call upon you to consider the public health impact of eliminating cities from eligibility for Healthy Homes and Lead Poisoning Prevention Programs funding and identify an alternative strategy to address budgetary shortfalls. The health and future of low-income children and the entire infrastructure to reduce health disparities among them are at stake
Shelly Yanoff, Public Citizens for Children and Youth
Joanna Otero, Council of Spanish Speaking Organizations, Inc.
Tine Hansen-Turton, National Nursing Centers Consortium
Thoai Nguyen, Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Associations Coalition (SEAMAAC), Inc.