Establishing Sustainable Funding for Public Health Departments

By Vin Gopal

Local health departments are critical to the wellbeing of communities. 

We saw the important role local health departments played in maintaining community health during the pandemic, when they provided information about the availability of COVID-19 vaccines to residents and helped track the spread of the virus. Yet, there currently is no sustainable source of funding for them from year to year.

Here’s how that happened. From 1966 to 2010, under the “State Health Aid Act,” which was renamed the “Public Health Priority Funding Act of 1977,” the state provided dedicated funds to give local health departments the flexibility to address local needs, emerging threats, and other priorities. In the FY2011 state budget, New Jersey eliminated Public Health Priority Funding. To put that in context, in FY2010, Public Health Priority Funding amounted to approximately 15 percent of the total funding for local health departments. 

Since then, however, local health departments have been funded by local property taxes and with the state and federal government providing sporadic funding designated for specific purposes, such as vaccines or environmental health services. But that funding stream is short-term and not sustainable. What do local health departments do when that funding dries up? That’s going to be an issue as threats to public health continue to emerge. 

The COVID-19 Pandemic highlighted the vital importance of local public health centers to public health in New Jersey. Last month, the state released a report analyzing the state’s response to the pandemic, which concluded that the state was unprepared to respond to the pandemic, and would be unprepared if another such public health crisis occurs. 

Our local public health centers are our first line of defense against looming threats to our public health, and now more than ever it is essential that we equip them to play that essential role. 

That’s why I sponsored S2010, which would supplement the “Public Health Priority Funding Act of 1977” by requiring a minimum annual state appropriation of $10 million for public health priority funding. The legislation reinstates New Jersey’s only state appropriated, unrestricted fund for local health departments. The bill, which has bipartisan support, has been referred to the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, and the Assembly Health Committee. It would make funding available to any public health department in the state. 

There are approximately 105 local health departments in New Jersey, including municipal and county health departments. In central and northern NJ there are a lot of municipal health departments. Some have joint service agreements to cover other towns. Our bill also covers regional health commissions, which operate under state regulations but are governed by commissioners appointed by each participating town’s health department or governing body. 

Seven counties have regional health commissions, including the Jersey Shore Regional Health Commission located on Shrewsbury Avenue in Tinton Falls NJ. The JSRHC serves a dozen towns in Monmouth County, including the LD11 towns of Allenhurst, Deal, Fair Haven and Loch Arbour. 

The LD11 legislative team is working hard to come up with innovative approaches to providing public healthcare so when the next health crisis hits Monmouth County residents will be safe.


First elected in 2018, Senator Vin Gopal is a lifelong resident of Monmouth County. Senator Gopal chairs the Senate Education Committee and serves as Senate Majority Conference Leader. He represents residents of Asbury Park, Allenhurst, Bradley Beach, Colts Neck, Deal, Eatontown, Fair Haven, Freehold, Freehold Township, Interlaken, Loch Arbor, Long Branch, Neptune City, Neptune Township, Ocean Township, Red Bank, Shrewsbury, Shrewsbury Township and Tinton Falls in the State Senate.