Public's health at risk from sequester, advocates warn

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"These cuts would also reduce food inspections, decrease public health emergency preparedness and response capabilities, reduce funding for states to monitor air quality, reduce mental health services for those in need, put the public at greater risk of infectious disease outbreaks and negatively impact many other critical public health programs."

Medicare benefits, Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program are exempt from the cuts, as are some parts of President Obama's healthcare law. But many health agencies run using discretionary spending face an 8 percent to 9 percent budget reduction.

Advocates have warned about the danger of cutting U.S. investments in public health for years. In recent months, groups have said sequester will hit money for graduate medical training, mental health services, community health centers, and vital medical research.

Some conservatives argue that sequestration should be welcomed as a long-desired whack at the federal budget. But Benjamin said Friday that efforts to pare down spending should focus on entitlements, not targeted intervention programs.

“These are essential public health services that save lives and protect our health," Benjamin said Friday. "To decimate programs that hold the greatest potential for growth and health security is a matter of failed policy."