Senate FY2020 Labor-HHS-Ed. Appropriations Bill Fails to Restore CDC’s Vision Health Initiative

This week, the Senate Appropriations Committee introduced legislation to fund programs under the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education in Fiscal Year (FY) 2020.

For the third straight fiscal year, the Vision Health Initiative (VHI) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would be funded at $1 million and the Glaucoma project will continue to be funded at $4 million. The legislation would provide the National Eye Institute (NEI) at the National Institutes of Health one of its most significant increases in recent years—$43 million over FY19—with a proposed funding level of $840 million in FY2020.

“While we appreciate that Congress continues to invest in innovative vision and eye health research at the NEI, the VHI is essential to addressing our national vision impairment and eye disease burden by conducting surveillance, advancing public health research, and implementing evidence-based public health interventions that emphasize prevention,” said Jeff Todd, President and CEO of Prevent Blindness. “Data generated through surveillance conducted by the VHI has not been updated for over 10 years, with the last available information on the national scope of vision impairments and eye diseases dating back to 2008. Unfortunately, the longer the VHI is not allocated the resources sufficient to conduct reliable surveillance, the worse our national prognosis on healthy vision and eyesight will become.”

Vision impairments are projected to cost the United States $167 billion in 2019. Despite these serious trends, for every $18,600 that vision problems cost our country in 2019, only a single dollar is allocated to programs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Eye Institute. Absent investments in vision and eye health as a public health priority, these costs are projected to increase to $717 billion by 2050. With an aging population and a working adult population who faces a rise in chronic diseases, now is the time to invest in our collective eye health.

“Surveillance is an essential aspect of a population health strategy that includes vision and eye health, and it ensures that important research discoveries reach the populations that critically need them,” Todd said. “Prevent Blindness will continue to advocate for policies and funding that strengthen the surveillance capacity of the CDC’s VHI, which is critical to developing targeted and effective public health interventions that lead to improved vision and eye health.”

The path forward on FY20 appropriations remains unclear at this point. The Senate’s FY20 appropriations legislation, released with only a few legislative days on the calendar before the end of FY19, was significantly delayed as Congress worked to reach a budget deal that would establish spending levels for FY20 and FY21. With so little time left to debate the substance of the legislation, the Senate will likely bypass Committee markup and consideration of the bill and move the legislation straight to the Senate floor for passage. However, numerous differences between the House and Senate versions of the appropriations bills may likely prolong the process and delay agreement on FY20 spending across all 12 appropriations bills. A Continuing Resolution to extend federal funding until November 21 is under consideration by both the House and Senate.