Democratic Senators Push for Proposal, Including Merkley Bills, to Establish National Response to COVID-19 and Invest in Frontline Health Care Workers

Democratic Senators Push for Proposal, Including Merkley Bills, to Establish National Response to COVID-19 and Invest in Frontline Health Care Workers

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, together with a working group of Senate Democrats, today is pushing Senate and House leadership to include the Force to Fight COVID-19 joint proposal in the upcoming COVID-19 relief package. The proposal includes a variety of health and social service workforce bills, including two bills led by Merkley—a bill that would establish a national contact tracing strategy to boost and coordinate efforts to monitor and prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and another to invest in America’s nursing workforce in rural, underserved areas, or minority-serving institutions and enroll students underrepresented in the nursing workforce in nursing schools.

In total, the proposal combines seven health and social service workforce bills into one dynamic package, which would combat the unprecedented economic and public health crisis; support efforts to address its wide-ranging harm; address the racial and ethnic health disparities exacerbated by the pandemic; and strengthen America’s infrastructure to prepare for future health and social challenges.

“We write to urge Senate and House leadership to include our Force to Fight COVID-19 Proposal in the upcoming coronavirus relief package,” wrote the senators. “Our comprehensive plan includes bipartisan, bicameral legislation that would address the dual health and economic toll of the coronavirus crisis by investing in jobs and health, and social services. The Force to Fight COVID-19 Proposal responds to immediate pandemic-related health challenges, creates community-based jobs and service opportunities to spur our economy, addresses the alarming racial and ethnic health disparities exacerbated by the pandemic, and strengthens our infrastructure to prepare America against future health threats. Congress must act to support the workforces required to fight COVID-19 and its broad consequences so Americans can get back to work, school, and their lives.”

Specific provisions of the plan include investment in a community-based public health workforce, boosts to FEMA for supply chain logistics, public health workforce loan repayments, investments in health services training, grant programs for nursing, expansion of national service programs that provide an array of social services, creation of career pathways for young Americans, and more. The Force to Fight COVID-19 proposal would address the workforce needs to respond to the pandemic, such as testing and health monitoring, as well as the broad social consequences of the pandemic, including by supporting educators and food banks.

The legislation included in the Force to Fight COVID-19 proposal is based off of existing bills, including: The Health Force and Resilience Force Act, The Jobs to Fight COVID-19 Act, The Coronavirus Containment Corps Act, Strengthening the Public Health Workforce Act, Strengthening America's Health Care Readiness Act (or the Health Heroes Act), The Future Advancement of Academic Nursing (FAAN) Act, and The Cultivating Opportunity and Response to the Pandemic through Service (CORPS) Act. Versions of legislation in this proposal have Republican support, and all bills have endorsements from advocate, academic, and industry groups. 

The Force to Fight COVID-19 Proposal

Public Health Service Legislation 

  • Resilience Force: A FEMA CORE surge workforce to assist with supply chain logistics and emergency procurement of medical/PPE/testing supplies, support testing and contact tracing activities, and to carry out disaster preparedness and response functions.
  • Strengthening the Public Health Workforce: Reauthorization and improvement of the Public Health Workforce Loan Repayment Program to provide education loan repayment assistance to people who work in a state, local, or Tribal public health department.

Clinical Health Service Legislation

  • Strengthening America's Health Care Readiness (Health Heroes): A historic investment in the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) and Nurse Corps programs to provide scholarship and loan repayment for the graduate education costs of tens of thousands of doctors, nurses, and other clinicians in order to help address health workforce shortages, medical disparities, and gaps in emergency preparedness that have been magnified by the pandemic.
  • Future Advancement of Academic Nursing (FAAN)A grant program for nursing education in rural, underserved areas, or minority serving institutions to enhance preparedness, quickly respond to public health emergencies and pandemics, enroll students underrepresented in the nursing workforce, and modernize nursing education and infrastructure. Based on legislation by Senator Merkley.

National Service Legislation

  • Strengthening and Expanding AmeriCorps: An expansion of social services-focused national service programs for a three-year period to their current authorization, extending opportunity to up to 250,000 Americans per year to combat food insecurity, assist educators, build capacity at community-based organizations, and help with COVID-19 recovery and response, while providing an improved living allowance and pathway to higher education for participants. 

In addition to Merkley, U.S.  Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chris Coons (D-DE), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Ed Markey (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tina Smith (D-MN), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) are members of the working group. 

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

 

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August 5, 2020  

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

We write to urge Senate and House leadership to include our Force to Fight COVID-19 Proposal in the upcoming coronavirus relief package. Our comprehensive plan includes bipartisan, bicameral legislation that would address the dual health and economic toll of the coronavirus crisis by investing in jobs and health, and social services. The Force to Fight COVID-19 Proposal responds to immediate pandemic-related health challenges, creates community-based jobs and service opportunities to spur our economy, addresses the alarming racial and ethnic health disparities exacerbated by the pandemic, and strengthens our infrastructure to prepare America against future health threats. Congress must act to support the workforces required to fight COVID-19 and its broad consequences so Americans can get back to work, school, and their lives.

Every community in America is unique, and so too is each community response to the threats the COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose. Our Force to Fight COVID-19 Proposal provides state and local governments with flexible funding to create hundreds of thousands of jobs and service positions within their own communities across the country. Americans need resources and coordination in order to save lives, end the pandemic, its broader social consequences, and get our lives to “normal.” In addition to critical COVID-19 testing and monitoring work, Congress must provide state and local governments with significant resources to strengthen the health care response in our overburdened hospitals and clinics, and build a community-based service workforce capable of tackling this pandemic and all future health challenges. We must create career pathways for young Americans disconnected from education and job opportunities, and who could be mobilized to fill critical functions in our COVID-19 response.

We are proposing an immediate “shot in the arm” to our health care response that will in turn accelerate our economic recovery. The American health and service workforce should be able to 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. 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 Force to Fight COVID-19 Proposal would make our economy resilient and prepared to withstand national challenges like an infectious disease, a biological weapon, or future unknown health threats.

Our Force to Fight COVID-19 Proposal Force would address health inequities by investing in hard-hit communities and promoting representation in the health workforce among racial and ethnic minorities bearing the disproportionate burden of this pandemic. A more diverse workforce that recruits from and serves communities of color means a more developed pipeline for medical, nursing, and health professionals that results in a more inclusive health system.

The Force to Fight COVID-19 Proposal is composed of the following legislation, including bipartisan bills:

Public Health Service Legislation

  • The Health Force + Jobs to Fight COVID-19: A federally funded, locally led, community-based public health workforce with core components of the Jobs to Fight COVID-19 Act.
  • National Coronavirus Monitoring Strategy (Coronavirus Containment Corps): A national strategy to boost and coordinate efforts to monitor and prevent COVID-19.
  • Resilience Force: A FEMA CORE surge workforce to assist with supply chain logistics and emergency procurement of medical/PPE/testing supplies, support testing and contact tracing activities, and to carry out disaster preparedness and response functions.
  • Strengthening the Public Health WorkforceReauthorization and improvement of the Public Health Workforce Loan Repayment Program to provide education loan repayment assistance to people who work in a state, local, or Tribal public health department. 

Clinical Health Service Legislation

  • Health Heroes: A historic investment in the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) and Nurse Corps programs to provide scholarship and loan repayment for the graduate education costs of tens of thousands of doctors, nurses, and other clinicians in order to help address health workforce shortages, medical disparities, and gaps in emergency preparedness that have been magnified by the pandemic.
  • Future Advancement of Academic Nursing (FAAN): A grant program for nursing education in rural, underserved areas, or minority serving institutions to enhance preparedness, quickly respond to public health emergencies and pandemics, enroll students underrepresented in the nursing workforce, and modernize nursing education and infrastructure. 

National Service Legislation

  • Strengthening and Expanding AmeriCorps: An expansion of social services-focused national service programs for a three-year period to their current authorization, extending opportunity to up to 250,000 Americans per year to combat food insecurity, assist educators, build capacity at community-based organizations, and help with COVID-19 recovery and response, while putting unemployed young Americans on a pathway to employment.

Sincerely,