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Good Thing We Trimmed That Pandemic Spending!

More from the New York Times, this time via Kevin Sack, who reports about the strain on local and state public health authorities as swine flu spreads. 

Public health officials said Congress had missed an opportunity by excising nearly $900 million in proposed financing for pandemic flu preparation from this year’s stimulus bill. It was to be the final installment of former President George W. Bush’s request for $7 billion in federal spending on vaccines, medical equipment and planning. Congress last allocated money for pandemic planning by state and local governments in 2006 — about $600 million over two years, said Dr. Paul E. Jarris, executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

“The entire system is lining up to decrease resources at the time we need them most,” he said. “We have to realize that we’re at the starting line. The stress will come if this escalates.”

Jeffrey Levi, executive director of the Trust for America’s Health, said the financial strain “makes it more important that we luck out” with a mild outbreak.

Dr. Alvin D. Jackson, the state health director in Ohio, which has one confirmed case of swine flu, said his agency’s state appropriation had declined by about $10 million over the last two years. He said his budget to prepare communities and hospitals for an influenza pandemic had dropped to $34 million from $55 million in 2004.

Despite the first reported swine flu death in the U.S., early reports suggest we may get the luck Levi describes: So far, the U.S. cases have been relatively mild and responsive to treatment. But in the event that our luck does run out--and, keep in mind, epidemics sometimes come in waves--those health agencies are going to need more help. 

Which is why, among other things, it's probably a good idea to appropriate the $1.5 billion in emergency swine flu funding President Obama just requested. 

--Jonathan Cohn