Is Now The Time To Cut Prevention Funding?

No. As we work to reduce the costs of healthcare in Vermont, we must continue to invest in proven prevention efforts to keep Vermonters healthy and avoid costly illnesses and disease. While I understand the State budget challenges, I was still very surprised to see the Governor’s proposed budget cuts included the State’s Coordinated Healthy Activity, Motivation & Prevention Programs (CHAMPPs) funding. That funding plays an important role here in our community and Statewide and should be maintained. I suggest that there is a funding source for those investments which would further assist in prevention and provide additional revenues to help with the State’s other challenges. A win-win is at hand.

Currently, Franklin and Grand Isle Counties receive $40,000 of CHAMPPs funding as part of approximately $235,000 in prevention funding statewide designed to facilitate infrastructure changes in local communities to make it easier for Vermonters to improve their health through healthier choices.

The CHAMPPs funding helps support Healthy Roots, the emerging exciting initiative in Franklin & Grand Isle counties to keep locally produced healthy foods in the local food system. A cold storage facility has opened and an additional grant was secured to purchase a refrigerated truck for transport. This promises better access to local healthy food choices as well as a better local economy. Without the coordination staffing, this project may end before the necessary elements are in place for it to be sustainable and all the effort and investment to date would be wasted.

CHAMPPs funded staffing have helped develop “Safe Routes to School” efforts in 9 schools impacting hundreds of students in “Walking School Bus” initiatives and community changes making it safer for students to walk/bike to school. Efforts continue towards making our communities more walkable and bikeable through engaging community members and pursuing grant funds. Without that staffing, these efforts may fall by the wayside and grants improvements may go unpursued.

In Swanton, CHAMPPs funded staff are helping the Swanton Enhancement Committee which is working with VT Council on Rural Development to identify the desires of the community and find ways to implement improvements. A more walkable and bikeable community was one of the items the community deemed important and CHAMPPs staff can be key in helping maintain the momentum necessary to see that realized.

Fairfield, Fairfax, Alburgh, and Enosburg all have great recreational resources that are underused. CHAMPPs funding is helping to develop Fairfield Pond beach as a recreation space for the community, to develop the new community center in Fairfax, to find ways to bring the community to the Alburgh Senior Center and Community Center while making the green space adjacent to it an active park, and to support Enosburg’s efforts to create an off-road pedestrian path or sidewalk from the Village to the Recreation Fields.

These types of infrastructure improvements make healthier eating and physical activity the community norm in our region, which leads to better health and ultimately, lower healthcare costs due to avoided illness and disease. They do require investment and this is a challenging budget year for the State. Given that, I suggest Vermont implement the tax on sugary beverages recommended by the American Heart Association. Sugary beverages have been shown to be a real factor in obesity, particularly in children, and cost increases have been shown to reduce consumption. In Vermont, the value of a 2-cent per ounce excise tax is projected to be $34 million. For some, reduced consumption of sugary beverages will help reach and maintain a healthy weight. For those who continue to choose to consume, the tax they pay could sustain the current statewide CHAMPPs efforts to improve health through prevention and still provide Vermont with more than $30 million in revenue to do more with prevention while addressing other budget concerns! Please join me in encouraging our elected officials to continue to invest in better health through prevention efforts and to explore the tax on sugary beverages as an appropriate mechanism for health improvement efforts and budget relief in Vermont.

If prevention and wellness are our future, then we need to invest in it. This is not the time to cut funding to initiatives that shape this direction.

— Jill Berry Bowen, NMC’s Chief Executive Officer