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Source: United States House of Representatives – Congressman Matt Cartwright (17th District of Pennsylvania)

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Representative Matt Cartwright (PA-08) introduced the Managing American Knowledge and Equipment to Prevent Pandemic Emergencies (MAKE PPE) Act to build our domestic manufacturing capacity of personal protective equipment (PPE) and nonpharmaceutical supplies and bolster American preparedness for pandemics.

“Health experts agree that PPE is one of the most important tools we have to fight the deadly coronavirus,” Cartwright said. “We were caught flat-footed when COVID-19 arrived in America, and we continue to grapple with persistent shortages of this equipment because of our limited PPE manufacturing capacity. This legislation ensures the U.S. has a coordinated strategy to face future health crises and invests in American businesses to consistently produce the PPE we need.”

At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, large hospitals in major cities sounded the alarm about the lack of PPE for health care workers fighting on the frontlines of the pandemic. Nurses in New York were forced to wear trash bags as makeshift gowns and told to reuse N95 masks for days and weeks at a time. In March, the Strategic National Stockpile had 12 million N95 masks and 30 million surgical masks, only 1% of the 3.5 billion masks that public health officials say are needed this year.

In June, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) revealed that the demand for PPE in the U.S. outpaces domestic manufacturing capabilities, which led to an overreliance on foreign supply chains. The surging global demand for this equipment made it difficult to procure.

At a hearing before the Committee on Oversight and Reform in July, representatives from six large medical equipment distribution companies that were involved with the Trump Administration’s response to the coronavirus reported widespread challenges to providing PPE and other medical supplies to communities in need across the country. Industry officials reported that from January to March, repeated requests for guidance from the federal government went unanswered. The administration left local governments and hospitals to fend for themselves, exacerbating already strained budgets and pitting states in competition with each other.

Some American manufacturers shifted production to simple PPE items like face shields and hand sanitizer, only to find the market flooded with similar products while more complicated equipment, like N95 respirator masks used by health care workers, remain in short supply. Small- and mid-sized manufacturers cite prohibitive costs and high levels of risk preventing them from entering the PPE space. Without federal assistance, many American manufacturing companies cannot afford to expand production capabilities.

Six months into the pandemic, N95 respirator masks and other PPE are still hard to find. The Trump Administration and FEMA have so far failed to execute a national strategy to address persisting PPE shortages around the country. As small businesses and schools re-open, they join hospitals, churches and governments in open competition to procure enough PPE to operate safely. Without federal assistance, large corporations and hospital systems have been able to amass PPE stockpiles while cash-strapped school districts and small business owners struggle to afford PPE from foreign suppliers.

The MAKE PPE Act would address what has traditionally been a major gap in planning and preparedness efforts by ensuring adequate domestic production capacity for PPE and other critical supplies needed to respond to a public health emergency. Specifically, this bill would require FEMA to execute a national strategy to meet PPE manufacturing and distribution needs through a centralized office.

Other key provisions include:

  • Requiring the development of a strategy for maximizing the use of U.S.-made PPE during an emergency, including an assessment of current sourcing challenges and opportunities to increase U.S. manufacturing of PPE;
  • Utilizing the federal government’s buying power to send a consistent demand signal to manufacturers of PPE and other materials that they should invest in domestic production;
  • Authorizing $100 million per year in grant funding to ensure that new and existing American manufacturers, including those in economically distressed areas, get assistance and support to build or expand PPE manufacturing capability;
  • Adding a data sharing requirement to existing public health grants to ensure that the federal government can access the data needed to coordinate materials needs during a crisis;
  • Updating the Stafford Act to include a public health emergency, such as a pandemic, in the definition of a major disaster; and
  • Increasing resiliency by producing information and resources about how to make basic temporary protective equipment at home.

This legislation is endorsed by the International Safety Equipment Association.

“To ensure safety equipment manufacturers can meet demand during a public health emergency, the federal government must regularly collect and provide PPE needs assessments from the healthcare community. ISEA supports the MAKE PPE bill because it would require FEMA to do this during a pandemic or other national emergency. The MAKE PPE Act puts America on the right track to better prepare for future crises, and we look forward to its fair and equitable implementation,” said Chuck Johnson, Jr., ISEA President.

This legislation is also sponsored by U.S. Reps. Joe Morelle (NY-25), Collin Peterson (MN-07) and Chris Pappas (NH-01).