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Source: United States House of Representatives – Congresswoman Barbara Lee 13th District of California


Washington, D.C. – Congresswoman Barbara Lee joined United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in calling on Senate Leadership to address public health disparities in communities of color.  Senator Warren sent a letter to Senate leadership calling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-K.Y) and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to ensure the next COVID-19 relief package includes their legislation, the COVID Community Care Act, which provides grants to faith-based and community organizations, as well as funding to the Indian Health Service, to conduct testing, contact tracing, and public outreach in medically under-served communities.  

“The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated Black, Brown, Latinx, and Indigenous communities. In order to address the disparities in our public health system and build trust in medically underserved communities, we must work with trusted messengers at the local level,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee.“I’m appreciative of Senator Warren for her leadership on this effort. It’s time for the Senate to take action and deliver lifesaving resources and care to those most impacted by this pandemic.” 

“As you know, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on low-income communities, Tribal nations, and communities of color. It is essential that the next federal pandemic relief package include funding that directly reaches these communities and enlists trusted partners to provide services and information that slow the spread of COVID-19,” Senator Warren wrote. 

The coronavirus pandemic has had an especially severe effect on low-income communities, communities of color, and Tribal nations. Black and Latino people are being hospitalized with COVID-19 at higher ratesand are dying from COVID-19 at younger ages. American Indians and Alaska Natives have been especially hard hit by the pandemic and its economic effects. At the same time, federal pandemic relief resources have not prioritized under-served communities. 

For example, a study of the Provider Relief Fund found that hospitals with the most revenue from private insurance received more than twice as much funding per hospital bed as the hospitals with the least private insurance revenue. This week the Government Accountability Office (GAO) agreed to Senator Warren’s and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley’s request to open aninvestigation into racial inequity in the pandemic response.

Further, success in any public health crisis also depends on people’s willingness to trust the health information they are getting. This is particularly true of communities that are medically underserved or suffer from health disparities. A legacy of discrimination in our health care has created mistrust among Black and Brown people and in Native communities-mistrust so prevalent that it has been documented by the National Institutes of Health. Public communication from local, trusted sources is critical to effective contact tracing and will be critical to administering COVID-19 vaccines once they become available to the broader public. 

To contain and mitigate COVID-19 in medically underserved communities, the COVID Community Care Act specifically:

  • Creates an $8 billion grant program for community organizations and nonprofits to conduct testing, contact tracing, and outreach in medically under-served communities. 
  • Complements the “CONTACT” initiative in the HEROES Act, which supports a nationwide test-and-trace initiative run through public health agencies, by engaging trusted community partners to reach communities that public health agencies have difficulty engaging. 
  • Requires individuals hired for contact tracing to have experience and relationships in medically under-served communities. 
  • Requires HHS to develop a comprehensive strategy for addressing health disparities. 
  • Provides $400 million to the Indian Health Service (IHS) to implement a comprehensive program to prevent and respond to COVID-19, in partnership with tribal nations, tribal organizations, and urban Indian organizations. 
  • The COVID Community Act has been endorsed by the National Minority Quality Forum, National Hispanic Medical Association, Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, National Indian Health Board, Partners in Health, SEIU, National Women’s Law Center, Justice in Aging, National Immigration Law Center, Families USA, and UnidosUS. 

H.R. 8192 is supported by over 50 organizations and was introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA). The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus; Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL), Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust; Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX), Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus; Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus; Reps. Debra Haaland (D-NM) and Sharice Davids (D-KS), Co-Chair and Vice Chair, respectively, of the Congressional Native American Caucus; and more than 50 of their colleagues. 

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