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Survey: Staff Cuts Still Plague State and Local Food Safety Agencies

If you thought the nation’s slow economic recovery would be enough to reverse job losses at state and local health districts overseeing food safety, you would be wrong.

In a beefed-up version of its annual survey, the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) found that state and local health districts cut 3,400 jobs during 2014. While that’s the smallest cut since staff reductions began in 2008, it’s no indication of recovery.

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photos-pink-slip-image7061958It brings the total job losses at state and local health districts since the Great Recession to 51,700, according to NACCHO. Both layoffs and attrition are included in the numbers.

“Ongoing budget cuts and resulting staff layoffs are jeopardizing the safety of the food we eat, the water we drink, and the ability of the community to be prepared and respond to disasters and public health emergencies,” NACCHO’s survey report states.

Other experts have said that staff reductions in state and local health districts are resulting in everything from fewer restaurant inspections to reduced surveillance to help identify outbreaks of foodborne disease.

In its latest “Forces of Change” survey, NACCHO built its national data on completed survey results from 690 state and local health districts. It did not independently verify the data.

Jurisdiction over health districts is widely mixed across the United States, with some controlled only by local governments, some by regional agencies, some with a local-state mix, and some run entirely by state governments.

Among the NACCHO survey findings is that health department budgets are not keeping up with the economic recovery. Last year, in addition to losing 2,100 employees due to normal attrition such as retirements and resignations, state and local health districts still sent layoff notices to 1,300 people.

The NACCHO data also show that 61 percent of the big city health districts (those with populations of more than 500,000) and 41 percent of the mid-sized districts (50,000 to 500,000 population) made staff cuts in 2014. And 26 percent of the small health departments (those serving 50,000 or fewer people) also cut employees last year.

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