Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) introduced a bill aimed at increasing the numbers of qualified public health workers. The bill would authorize $35 million per year for scholarships to encourage young people to seek public health careers and $195 million to help students repay loans. Eighty percent of the funds would go toward placing public health workers at the state and local level rather than federal. The bill also would authorize bonuses for workers who agree to be placed in underserved areas. A shortage of public health workers makes it difficult to prepare for threats such as West Nile virus and bioterrorism, Hagel said in a news release.
In other legislative news, the House Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on labor, health and human services, education and related agencies unanimously passed a 2% increase in fiscal 2005 discretionary spending for the agencies under its jurisdiction. The increase would bring the discretionary spending budget for the agencies to $142.5 billion. It was unclear how much HHS would receive under the bill; however, funding for community health centers would grow to $1.8 billion, a $219 million increase over this year. The bill is expected to pass the Appropriations Committee but faces opposition in the full House. -- by Jeff Tieman and Tony Fong