Senate Releases Long-Awaited FY2021 Appropriations Legislation

This week, the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations released its long-awaited version of Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 appropriations legislation for programs and agencies within the Departments of Health and Human Services, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and National Eye Institute (NEI) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Because the process was significantly delayed due to Congress’s need to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, prior to the end of FY2020, in September, Congress passed a Continuing Resolution that extends funding levels until December 11.

The Senate’s FY21 legislation includes an overall increase of $130 million to the CDC’s top-line funding level over FY2020, which includes a continued proposed funding level of $1 million for the CDC’s vision and eye health program and $4 million to address glaucoma. These levels have continued since FY2018. For the fourth year trending, the National Institutes of Health received an increase of over $2 billion, including an increase of over $26 million to the National Eye Institute’s proposed funding level of over $850 million. Earlier this year, over 83 organizations across the vision and eye health community sent a letter to Senate appropriators urging long-overdue investments to the CDC’s vision and eye health surveillance programs. Currently, as a result of over a decade of sequestration and budget cuts to public health programs, the CDC’s best estimates of vision loss and eye disease are over a decade old with current state and community interventions based on data that dates as far back as 1999.

“At its proposed funding level, the CDC’s Vision Health Initiative will only be able to maintain—but not increase— its efforts to prevent avoidable vision loss in the United States. Without updated, reliable surveillance data, our nation is falling further behind in stemming the rising tide of preventable vision loss,” said Jeff Todd, President and CEO of Prevent Blindness. “In addition, as we continue to respond and develop policy solutions related to COVID-19, public health and disease surveillance is especially critical to understand how COVID-19 affects people who live with vision loss, chronic disease, blinding eye disease, or a disabling visual impairment. Outdated surveillance data could create gaps in our knowledge of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases and affect policy decisions on access to vision and eye health care (including through telehealth), addressing inequities in vision health among diverse racial populations and in rural and underserved communities, biomedical research and innovations such as those produced by the NEI, and advancing evidence-based population health initiatives.”

Senate Appropriators will use this legislation to conference with House Appropriators and agree on a final version of FY21 spending legislation to pass in their respective chambers before sending to the President for signature. Prevent Blindness will continue to advocate for policies and funding that restores the surveillance capacity of the CDC’s vision and eye health programs. To join our efforts and tell Congress to invest in the CDC’s Vision Health Initiative, visit Prevent Blindness’s Advocacy Alerts website and sign up for action alerts on this and other important policy issues.