By Valeria Alarcón and Divya Shiv, Santa Fe New Mexican
Jan. 27, 2024

Nothing is more foundational to one’s well-being than one’s health. Lawmakers can help people be and stay healthy by making strong investments in programs that address health threats and inequities. This legislative session, lawmakers have the opportunity to do just that — and make New Mexico healthier and stronger in the process — by passing House Bill 67, sponsored by Rep. Anthony Allison, to fully fund New Mexico’s County and Tribal Health Councils, and by passing the Public Health and Climate Program Act, House Bill 104, sponsored by Rep. Reena Szczepanski, majority whip for the House.

Health councils in particular are vital to promoting health and improving health outcomes in our state. Specifically, our 33 county and nine tribal health councils play a critical role in the state’s public health system by working with the Department of Health to track and report health outcomes, conduct community health assessments and collaborate with partners to address local health priorities. By focusing on long-term preventive health through culturally relevant and tailored health education and local policies to improve health, Health councils’ work results in cost-effective strategies to address regional health disparities, especially for rural and tribal areas in the state. In fact, health councils leverage state funding by producing a return on investment of $4 for every dollar in core funding.

While health councils are receiving a slight boost in funding from the Department of Health through a 2021 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant to allow them to support community rebuilding during the pandemic, this funding is set to end May 31. Without this funding, 50% of health councils could be at risk of closure, harming New Mexicans living in rural and lower-income communities and decreasing the number of jobs in those areas. Instead, lawmakers can choose to invest in the health and prosperity of New Mexico by supporting the $6.6 million funding request so health councils can continue their important work that helps New Mexico thrive.

Given their local knowledge and networks, health councils are also essential for the success of other programs and bills, like the Public Health and Climate Program Act. This bill addresses the threats to public health caused by climate change and worsening impacts like extreme heat, poor air quality, drought, flooding and wildfires. The act would create a Public Health and Climate Program within the Department of Health to increase cooperation and capacity between agencies and support development and implementation of response systems. In addition, the act would also establish a Public Health and Climate Resiliency Fund to enable local entities such as health councils to help communities adapt to climate change and to respond to public health emergencies.

Health councils would be valuable partners to the Public Health and Climate Program to proactively address the health effects of climate change because they are familiar with the climate adaptation and resiliency needs of their local communities. With their existing infrastructures, health councils would also serve as great resources for continued data collection, assessment and analysis as it relates to climate change. As we see more extreme weather events and related health issues, New Mexico families need a strong health system to take immediate action and protect our people and communities from climate change’s ever-worsening effects.

County and Tribal Health Councils and the Public Health and Climate Program Act are examples of how health programs can support one another, making New Mexico stronger in the process. This legislative session, lawmakers can prioritize the health of New Mexicans by fully funding County and Tribal Health Councils (HB 67) and by passing the Public Health and Climate Program Act (HB 104).

Valeria Alarcón is executive director of New Mexico Alliance of Health Councils, and Divya Shiv, research and policy analyst at New Mexico Voices for Children.