November 24, 2020

Gillibrand Leads Bicameral Call On Congressional Leadership To Include Health Force Proposal In Next COVID Relief Package

Gillibrand Leads Bicameral Call On Congressional Leadership To Include Health Force Proposal In Next COVID Relief Package; Passage Of Health Force And Resilience Force Proposal In COVID Relief Package Would Ensure Safe, Equitable Distribution And Administration Of Forthcoming COVID-19 Vaccine

In preparation for a COVID-19 vaccine, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand called on congressional leadership to include the Health Force and Resilience Force Proposal in the next coronavirus relief package. The Health Force and Resilience Force proposal, championed by Senators Gillibrand and Michael Bennet (D-CO), and supported by Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), would invest billions in local public health infrastructure and would recruit, train and employ hundreds of thousands of Americans to address vaccine hesitancy and ensure equitable vaccine distribution, particularly in underserved communities. Community-based public health jobs and resources, like those created by Health Force, are known to improve local vaccine education, outreach, and vaccination rates. While the current administration has dragged its feet in response to the pandemic, the Health Force and Resilience Force proposal would ensure the federal government has a proactive and coordinated approach to vaccine preparedness and implementation. 

“The federal government must work with state and local governments, particularly in underserved communities, to guarantee the vaccine will reach those who need it the most. Failure to adequately prepare will have dangerous consequences for families and exacerbate already alarming racial and ethnic health disparities,” said Senator Gillibrand. “I am calling on Senate and House leadership to include our Health Force and Resilience Force Proposal in the next COVID relief package in order to address immediate pandemic-related health challenges and help our communities prepare for equitable vaccine distribution. The Health Force will create community-based jobs and service opportunities that will boost our economy and strengthen our preparedness against future health threats.”

“As our country heads into a long winter and prepares for the distribution of a vaccine, it is imperative that our community health leaders have the resources and capacity needed to respond to surging cases and ensure the COVID-19 vaccine is distributed quickly and equitably,” said Senator Michael Bennet. “Our proposal to create a Health Force would mobilize thousands of Americans to bolster our public health efforts and ensure we have the capacity to distribute the vaccine as fast as possible. Congress must pass a relief package this year that includes the Health Force, or a proposal like it, to deploy essential public and community health frontline workers to fight this virus.”

“By investing now in full-time employment opportunities for Americans to serve their country in a new Health Force under the CDC and bolstering an existing team of first responders at FEMA, we will build back stronger and healthier. Inclusion of the Health and Resilience Forces Act in the next coronavirus package will bolster FEMA’s workforce and give a needed shot in the arm to state, local, and Tribal governments as they tackle the scourge of COVID-19 and ready the distribution of vaccines in the months to come,’ said Senator Markey.

“As COVID-19 cases continue to mount across Maryland and the country, we must urgently mobilize the full extent of our national resources to fight back. This plan leverages the huge potential of our workforce, tackling the coronavirus head-on while also putting more Americans back to work. I first introduced this concept in the UNITE Act with Senator Markey, and I’m proud to join Senator Gillibrand in this call to include these crucial provisions within the next urgently-needed relief package,” said Senator Van Hollen.

Partners In Health welcomes this proactive proposal rooted at the intersection of public health and social justice. We need a long-term public health workforce that will be recruited from and reflective of the needs of their communities at the state and local levels, and that is exactly what this legislation will build. This is a key to ensuring a more equitable COVID-19 response and a stronger public health system.” said Cate Oswald, Chief Policy and Partnership Officer, Partners In Health. 

“At a time when so many Americans are under or unemployed, and suffering financially due to COVID-19, the Health Force and Resilience Force Act would create much-needed jobs by employing community health frontline workers,” said Amber Hewitt, Director of Health Equity at Families USA. “Equally important, it will combat health inequities by recruiting individuals who are reflective of the communities they serve, thereby leveraging assets within communities hardest hit by the pandemic." 

“The Consortium of Universities for Global Health is totally in support of this bill which comes at a crucial time in our history and aims to build an ailing public health infrastructure in the United States. We desperately need a strengthened health force to help equitably distribute vaccine, contact trace and build community resilience against future pandemics.” said Michele Barry MD FACP-Chair of the CUGH Board, Stanford University.

“The Community Health Acceleration Partnership (CHAP) welcomes the Health Force legislation and calls on Senate leadership to prioritize this important bill. Trusted community-based workforces are essential for testing, tracing, and building confidence around a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine. In addition to creating jobs in communities facing high rates of unemployment, the Health Force will help our cities and towns recover with resiliency, by addressing long-term health disparities and improving equity,” said Claire Qureshi, Senior Director, U.S. Initiatives at Community Health Acceleration Partnership.  

recent report by the Washington Post emphasizes the challenges that federal, state, and local governments face in distributing a vaccine. Public health experts have expressed concern that a federal vaccine distribution plan could disproportionately overlook poor and minority communities without adequate preparation. As the nation prepares for a COVID-19 vaccination campaign, Gillibrand and her colleagues explained that Congress must provide state and local governments with significant resources to build a strong community-based workforce capable of tackling the many facets of this pandemic and all future health challenges.

The letter was signed by Senators Michael F. Bennet (D-CO), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tina Smith (D-MN), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jeffrey A. Merkley (D-OR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Representatives Lauren Underwood (D-IL-14), and Jimmy Panetta (D-CA-20). 

Health Force is inspired by the Depression-era Works Progress Administration, which similarly tapped thousands of job seekers to help the nation recover from a sharp economic downturn. Health Force will train Americans, equip them with basic public health skills, and employ them in their home communities to expand the public health workforce and meet local needs. By providing federal funding to State, local, territorial, and Tribal public health departments, and their partners across the country, Health Force will ensure that every community is positioned to meet its most pressing needs. Health Force could be responsible for:

  • Supporting the administration of diagnostic, serologic, or other COVID–19 tests;
  • Supporting COVID-19 vaccination campaigns;
  • Addressing social, economic, behavioral and preventive health needs for individuals affected by COVID-19, including those who are asked to voluntarily isolate or quarantine in their homes.
  • Sharing public health messages with community members;
  • Helping community members address social, economic, behavioral health, and preventive health needs beyond those created by the pandemic, using evidence-informed models and in accordance with recognized standards;
  • Providing community-based information to local and tribal health departments to inform and improve health programming, especially for hard-to-reach communities. 

At the moment, New York’s health system is stretched to its limits. Last week Onondaga and Erie Counties both had positive test rates over 8%, and hospitalization across the state are at the highest level the state has seen since June. In Staten Island, COVID-19 positivity rates have reached a 4% seven-day average.

 Full text of the letter can be found here and below. 

November 24, 2020 

 

The Honorable Mitch McConnell     

Majority Leader

United States Senate

Washington, D.C. 20510

 

The Honorable Charles Schumer

Minority Leader

United States Senate

Washington, D.C. 20510

             

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi            

Speaker         

United States House of Representatives

Washington, D.C. 20515

 

The Honorable Kevin McCarthy

Minority Leader

United States House of Representatives

Washington, D.C. 20515

 

Dear Leader McConnell, Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi, and Leader McCarthy:

As our nation prepares its public health infrastructure for distribution and administration of safe and effective vaccines against Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), we write to urge Senate and House leadership to include our Health Force and Resilience Force Proposal in any upcoming coronavirus-related legislative package. Our plan, which integrates the Jobs to Fight COVID-19 Act by Senator Schatz and the Coronavirus Containment Corps Act by Senator Warren, would address the dual health and economic toll of the coronavirus crisis by investing in locally-recruited, community-based health workforces. The Health Force and Resilience Force Proposal would respond to immediate pandemic-related health challenges, such as the safe and effective administering of vaccines and continued contact tracing, testing, and quarantine/isolation supports,. It would also address the alarming racial and ethnic health disparities exacerbated by the pandemic, including equitable vaccine distribution. State, Local, and Tribal public health departments need resources and coordination in order to save lives, end the pandemic, its broader social and economic consequences, and get back to life.

Every community in America is unique, and so too is each community’s challenge for equitable vaccine distribution and safe, effective administration. Our Health Force and Resilience Force Proposal would provide state and local governments with flexible funding to create hundreds of thousands of jobs to prepare for vaccine distribution and administration. A successful national COVID-19 vaccination campaign will depend on robust public health infrastructure capable of keeping up with the unprecedented progress of COVID-19 vaccine development. In order to be prepared for the safe, timely distribution of vaccines, Congress must provide state and local governments with significant resources to build a community-based workforce capable of tackling the many facets of this pandemic and all future health challenges.  

Public health experts and elected leaders, including the National Governors Association, have concerns that a federal vaccine distribution plan, without adequate preparation, could disproportionately affect poor and minority communities. A comprehensive approach to equitable vaccine distribution must include communities most impacted by historical harms at the earliest planning stages, and it must be engaged immediately to ensure uptake of vaccines and mitigate against exacerbating inequities. Our Health Force and Resilience Force Proposal would spur the creation of trusted community-based public health workforces similar to community health workers (CHWs), promoters, and/or peer health promoters. This locally-recruited Health Force and Resilience Force would mitigate the effects some communities have with distrust of medical and government institutions. That distrust, along with broad anti-vaccine sentiment and disinformation, require a large-scale investment in local recruiting and community engagement, which could be led in part by the Health Force and Resilience Force. Our proposal would afford local health departments the resources for planning, community mobilization, vaccine delivery, and individual and community follow up, with a focus on the most marginalized communities throughout. 

The workforce built through our Health Force and Resilience Force Proposal would respond to public health and social emergencies as well as long-term public health needs across diverse communities to keep our economy open, productive, and successful. We will face future pandemics and other major health threats that harm our economy and livelihood. If we do not learn from our experiences with the coronavirus pandemic we will find ourselves closing down again as we scramble to respond to the next great national health threat. 

Our Health Force and Resilience Force Proposal would make our economy resilient and prepared to withstand national challenges like an infectious disease, a biological weapon, or future unknown health threats. We strongly urge you to pass this legislation in any upcoming legislative package. 

Sincerely,