The federal office introduced by Biden that is focused on the health impacts of climate change has no permanent staff or proper funding. When President Joe Biden came into office, one of his first executive orders on climate was to introduce the new office within the Department of Health and Human Services to deal with the public health impacts of climate change.
However, since the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity was founded nearly a year ago, it seems like it’s been forgotten. The office has not been funded by Congress, and there is no full-time staff. The office is assigning employees from the Health and Human Services department to work temporarily towards its initiatives. These temporary employees tackle issues including extreme heat, air pollution from wildfire smoke, flooding, and working with disadvantaged communities that suffer disproportionately from the impacts of climate change.
However, these are only temporary employees, and the officials at the office told CNN that they can not do their job properly without funding and resources, especially, they add, as human-caused climate change worsens extreme weather.
“Public health decisions have to be based on the realities of climate change, and the [office] needs resources to make that happen at the federal level,” said Adm. Rachel Levine, assistant secretary for health at HHS, in a statement to CNN.
Levine told CNN about the recent heat wave that swept across the Midwest and South. Recently, as many as 80 million people in the United States were under heat advisories as the temperature rose as high as 115.
“We’re seeing right now what extreme temperatures can do to human health and environmental quality,” Levine told CNN. “We can’t respond effectively at the Department of Health and Human Services without funding, staffing and political support, and I’m hoping Congress recognizes the value and importance of what we’re trying to build here.”
Aaron Bernstein, the interim director of C-CHANGE at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said that Congress needs to take this issue seriously and realize the threat of not doing anything.
“It would be as if 9/11 happened and we didn’t create the Department of Homeland Security, is essentially what we’re doing,” Bernstein told CNN.
When the office was established in August of 2021, Biden made a budget request to Congress for $3 million to fund eight full-time positions at the office. Now, almost a year later, it has yet to receive any funding. A House Appropriations Committee spokesperson said that the office would be funded under the 2023 fiscal year budget. However, this budget needs to be agreed to in the Senate, where many Republicans are not in agreement with Biden’s climate initiatives.
However, even with few resources, officials told CNN that they have been able to make some progress. They have been working with major healthcare organizations and hospitals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions within the sector. They also have been coordinating funding for cooling assistance for those struggling with heat or getting air purifiers for communities dealing with wildfire smoke.
Even though we can’t see the global impacts of climate change every day, it is truly a global problem. This French Artist created an eye-opening depiction of what the world will look like post-climate change. We need to work toward fighting climate change and remember that our actions can impact people all over the world who could be paying a much higher price than we think.
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