We all know there are places in these United States where, when we visit we are hit with that rich feeling.  These places look rich, feel rich, and even smell rich.

People who reside in these places live in bubbles.  They are clueless about life on the outside.  Unfortunately for about–oh the past 30 years–one of these places has been Washington, D.C.  We are talking about the District where our federal government exists and areas of the surrounding states of Maryland and Virginia.

Few other places rival the local economy that surrounds our nation’s Capitol.  It’s a place of “no worries.”

For rest of us, it is a different story.  We know it will take five years of net new job growth of 250,000 per month to get back what we’ve lost.   We know the federal government’s finances are not sustainable.  We are worried about government cutbacks in our neighborhoods, especially in schools.

When we learn of cutbacks in food and water safety we are not surprised, just more worried about the future.  States have cut $392 million for public health programs, which include food and water safety and environmental health, according to a March 2010 report from the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

Federal spending for public health has been flat for the last five years, meaning there’s been no money to make up the gap down here where we live.

While the two foundations looked at spending, the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) has looked at jobs, and the results are not pretty.   Local health departments lost 16,000 jobs in 2009, according to NACCHO.

And there were 7,000 local and regional health department jobs lost in 2008.   NACCHO estimates 15 percent of the local public health workforce has been lost in the last two years.

NACCHO, which represents 2,800 city, county, metropolitan, district, and tribal health departments, says its data should “sound a warning.”  These local health departments are the ones that inspect restaurants and school cafeterias, and food processors.

Robert M. Pestronk, executive officer of NACCHO, says the front line health departments will “do the best job they can with the resources available to them to protect Americans from public health threats…”

The dramatic nature of these cutbacks, however, means local health department can no longer do more with less.  It means they will be doing less with less, fewer inspections, less follow-up, responding more only after someone is ill, not before.

You will be happy to know, however, that inside the bubble they may be safe.  Local health department spending in the District of Columbia is $134.17 per capita, second only to Hawaii at $169.92, according to the report from the two foundations.

Lowest spending per capita is found in hard-hit Nevada, which comes in at a mere $3.55.  It just happens that Las Vegas is the site of next month’s gathering of Food Safety News writers from around the nation.  Oh yum!