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Newswise — New COVID-19 emergency legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives May 15 is being praised by the American Public Health Association for key provisions that will help protect and rebuild the health of the nation in the wake of the ongoing pandemic.
The public health provisions, which were included in the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, address issues that include testing, contact tracing, paid sick leave, nutrition assistance, mental health and worker safety.
“As the public health workforce continues to tackle the serious ongoing health threats from COVID-19, these provisions will provide critical resources and support,” said APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin, MD. “In addition, we continue our call for more investment in core public health infrastructure and the public health workforce to ensure our public health system has the tools, people and resources needed to protect our communities throughout our nation.”
Nearly 1.5 million people have been infected with COVID-19 in the U.S., leading to more than 87,000 deaths. In addition, an estimated 16.2 million workers have lost employer-provided health insurance, according to the Economic Policy Institute. To help address that problem, the HEROES Act would create a two-month open enrollment period through the Affordable Care Act’s federal exchange so people who are unemployed — for any reason — can purchase health insurance coverage.
To support people who are still on the job, the act would also expand paid sick leave to millions of additional workers by eliminating restrictive employer exemptions and increasing the reasons for which paid leave can be used by workers. The act would also help workers by requiring an emergency occupational standard to protect them from COVID-19 exposure.
Work to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 testing and care would also get an assist under the act by requiring that data for individuals diagnosed with COVID-19 — such as testing, diagnoses, hospitalization, intensive care admissions and mortality rates — be broken down by race, ethnicity, age, sex, gender and geographic region.
Other important public health provisions in the HEROES Act include:
- $75 billion for developing and implementing a national system for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, surveillance, containment and mitigation.
- $2.1 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Emergency Preparedness cooperative agreements, core public health infrastructure activities and data system modernization.
- $7.6 billion for the Health Resources and Services Administration to expand capacity for testing and care through community health centers.
- $3 billion for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for programs to address substance abuse and behavioral health needs during the pandemic.
- Increased funding for nutrition and hunger programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children and other programs that promote access to nutritious foods.
- Further funding for unemployment assistance and compensation and an increase in federal funding for state Medicaid programs and housing assistance — including aid for older adults, people with disabilities and those who are homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless.
APHA is urging Congress to further bolster the nation’s public infrastructure by providing $4.5 billion in additional long-term annual mandatory funding for CDC and state, local, tribal and territorial public health agencies for core public health infrastructure activities. This funding would support essential activities such as: disease surveillance, epidemiology, laboratory capacity, all-hazards preparedness and response, policy development and support, communications, community partnership development and organizational competencies. Congress should also appropriate funding in fiscal years 2020 and 2021 for the public health workforce loan repayment program authorized in the HEROES Act, according to APHA.
“We look forward to working with both the House and Senate to support additional strong public health provisions in any future emergency legislation to address the COVID-19 pandemic,” Benjamin said.
APHA champions the health of all people and all communities. We strengthen the public health profession. We speak out for public health issues and policies backed by science. We are the only organization that combines a nearly 150-year perspective, a broad-based member community and the ability to influence federal policy to improve the public’s health. Visit us at www.apha.org.