Information provided by the Office of Congressman Jimmy Panetta.
On Jan. 22, Congressman Jimmy Panetta along with representatives Jason Crow, Lauren Underwood, and Dean Phillips announced the introduction of the Health Force, Resilience Force, and Jobs to Fight COVID-19 Act (Health Force Act), legislation that would invest billions in the nation’s public health jobs and infrastructure and aid the country’s lagging vaccine distribution campaign.
The bicameral legislation will be introduced in the Senate by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Michael Bennet, Brian Schatz, Ed Markey, Chris Van Hollen, Amy Klobuchar, Richard Blumenthal, Cory Booker, Bob Casey, Tammy Duckworth, and Jack Reed.
According to a recent release, the Health Force Act would, if approved, invest billions in local public health infrastructure to recruit, train, and employ hundreds of thousands of Americans to build public health capacity in underserved communities. Additionally, the Resilience Force would complement the Health Force by bolstering the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) workforce in the whole-of-government effort to combat the COVID-19 outbreak. These public health workers could respond to a surge in COVID-19 patients and administer and distribute vaccines. As the United States continues to battle the coronavirus pandemic and rebuild the economy, the Health Force Act would support already overburdened state and local health departments, provide jobs for thousands of recently unemployed Americans, and directly support the nation’s efforts to recover from the current crises.
“It’s past time for the federal government to play its part when it comes to properly equipping state and local governments to fight the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Panetta. “We’ve come together to pass legislation for federal funding, but now we must help provide the actual infrastructure for more accessible testing, practical tracing, and opportunities for isolating. The Health Force Act will provide help not just with covering the cost, but also with the coordination and work crews necessary at the local level to battle this pandemic, as well as any future public health emergencies.”
The release noted that community-based public health jobs and resources, like those created by the Health Force Act, are known to improve local health outcomes, including vaccination rates. The Health Force Act would ensure the federal government has a proactive and coordinated approach to facilitate vaccine distribution and administration—it would deliver $40 billion a year, for the first two years, to meet the COVID-19 vaccine distribution needs and address the various public health challenges caused by the pandemic.
The creation of a 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. The 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, the Health Force will ensure that every community is positioned to meet its most pressing needs. The 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 information with community members and organizations;
- 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;
- Sharing community-based information with local and tribal health departments to inform and improve health programming, especially for hard-to-reach communities. Promoting linkages with other health and social programs.
After the conclusion of the COVID-19 pandemic, the release states the Health Force would be retained to continue to serve as local, trusted public health workers in their home communities, especially in historically underserved areas.
In addition to the Health Force, the legislation also includes the Resilience Force, which would complement the Health Force goals by training 62,000 additional FEMA Cadre of On-Call Response/Recovery members to battle the COVID-19 pandemic and to combat other natural disasters. In taking advance of an existing hiring mechanism, Resilience Force members would provide a surge workforce for FEMA, broadening opportunities for unemployed Americans while supporting the nation’s COVID-19 response plans, including stand up vaccination centers in the hardest hit communities. Resilience Force members could assist with supply chain logistics, rebuild COVID-safe infrastructure for schools and beyond, and aid the emergency procurement of medical, personal protective equipment, and testing supplies.
“FEMA has a unique role to play in hiring a flexible workforce that can respond quickly to disasters like COVID,” said former FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. “The Health Force and Resilience Force taps into this powerful workforce to hire and deploy FEMA members to some of our country’s hardest hit communities.”
The Health Force, Resilience Force, and Jobs to Fight COVID-19 Act has been endorsed by leading public health organizations, health care organizations, and experts, including Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, Center for Popular Democracy Action, Consortium of Universities for Global Health, Greater New York Hospital Association, HealthBegins, Families USA, National Coalition of STD Directors, National Hispanic Medical Association, National Partnership for Women & Families, National Peace Corps Association, Partners In Health, Resilience Force, Right to Health Action, and the Service Employees International Union.
A section-by-section of the current bill text can be found here.