Bennet, Colleagues Introduce Legislation to Create ‘Health Force’ to Mobilize Americans and Combat the Coronavirus Pandemic

Health Force Would Train and Employ Job-Seeking Americans to Address COVID-19 Public Health Challenges, Bolster Nation’s Public Health Infrastructure, and Aid Equitable Vaccine Distribution and Administration

Washington, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), and eight of their Democratic colleagues introduced legislation to create a Health Force to mobilize Americans and combat the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. This legislation will recruit, train, and employ hundreds of thousands of Americans – investing billions in public health jobs and infrastructure – and aid the country’s lagging vaccine distribution campaign. The United States continues to battle COVID-19 more than a year after the first case was confirmed in this country. The Health Force, which would be one of the most ambitious and expansive public health investments in our nation’s history, would directly support the nation’s effort to end, recover, and rebuild from this crisis. President Joe Biden’s National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness, announced last week, includes a similar proposal to drastically expand the U.S. public health workforce.

The Health Force, Resilience Force, and Jobs to Fight COVID-19 Act also includes the Resilience Force, a proposal championed by U.S. Senators Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) to expand and mobilize the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in a whole-of-government effort to combat the COVID-19 outbreak. These FEMA public health workers could help establish vaccination clinics, distribute and administer vaccines, and assist with supply chain logistics. 

“For the past ten months, Washington has allowed the virus to manage us instead of taking action to manage the virus. Despite the heroic efforts of frontline health workers, chronic underinvestment in our public health infrastructure has only compounded the damage,” said Bennet. “We need a new approach. Last year, Senator Gillibrand and I introduced legislation to create a Health Force that would train hundreds of thousands of Americans to support the contact tracing, testing, and vaccine administration needed to end the pandemic while strengthening our public health infrastructure for years to come. If we had passed our bill last year, our country would be in a much better position than we are today. We can’t wait any longer. I urge my colleagues to support our proposal so we can get our country back on its feet.” 

“Implementing the Health Force is a critical step for the new Congress, and new administration, to combat this pandemic. Enacting a Health Force as part of robust federal plan would enable us to train hundreds of thousands of public health workers, create jobs in struggling communities, and ensure that every community has the resources to reach every American in need of the vaccine,” said Gillibrand. “I’m proud to introduce this legislation alongside my colleagues and I will continue fighting for the creation and implementation of this life saving program.”

“With nearly 31 million people unemployed, we need solutions that meet the scale of the problem,” said Schatz. “Our bill will put people back to work and provide the workforce we need to stop the spread of the coronavirus and help us safely reopen.”

The 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 would 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 – $40 billion per year for the first two years – to state, local, territorial, and tribal public health departments, and their partners across the country, the Health Force would ensure that every community is positioned to meet its most pressing needs. 

In Colorado, public health and human services are decentralized, placing a greater burden at the local level to create financial resources and trained health care workers. The Health Force would directly support the work of local agencies by giving young people the opportunity to fill the specific jobs different counties need while earning an income and building new skills. Colorado’s local health departments would benefit from a surge of support for services like contact tracing and infection control to food delivery for seniors and child care support. 

After the current public health crisis concludes, the Health Force would provide grant funding and technical assistance to state and local health departments to hire and retain members to serve as health extension workers (HEWs) among vulnerable populations, in underserved areas and in future public health emergencies. This could include sharing public health messages with community members, providing home-based check-ins for seniors and new mothers and infants, providing vaccination schedule reminders for parents of children, connecting community members with health-related services (e.g. the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP), and more.

The Health Force would be a new component of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Public Health Emergency Preparation (PHEP) which include 65 jurisdictions across all 50 states, territories, and tribal lands. The CDC would develop and implement Health Force training packages, while state, local, territorial, and tribal funding recipients would hire, supervise, and retain Force members using new grant or cooperative agreement funding provided through PHEP and/or Public Health Crisis Response (PHCR). States, localities, territories, and tribal entity funding recipients would actively recruit and manage Force members. Recruitment would reach out to low-income, minority, and historically marginalized populations. 

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; and
  • Promoting linkages with other health and social programs.

In addition, the Resilience Force would complement Health Force goals by training 62,000 additional FEMA Cadre of On-Call Response/Recovery (CORE) members to battle the COVID-19 pandemic and to combat other natural disasters. By taking advantage 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. Resilience Force members could assist with supply chain logistics, build COVID-safe infrastructure for schools and beyond, establish vaccination centers, and aid the emergency procurement of medical, personal protective equipment, and testing supplies.

The Health Force, Resilience Force, and Jobs to Fight COVID-19 Act has been endorsed by leading public health organizations, health care organizations, and world-renowned experts, including Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, Center for Popular Democracy Action, Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH), HealthBegins, Families USA, National Coalition of STD Directors, National Hispanic Medical Association, National Hispanic Medical Association, National Partnership for Women & Families, National Peace Corps Association, Partners In Health, Resilience Force, Right to Health Action (R2H Action), Service Employees International Union, Greater New York Hospital Association, and more.

“Partners In Health welcomes this proactive proposal rooted at the intersection of public health and social justice. We need a long-term public health workforce that will be recruited from and reflective of the needs of their communities at the state and local levels, and that is exactly what this legislation will build. This is a key to ensuring a more equitable COVID-19 response and a stronger public health system. — Cate Oswald, Chief Policy and Partnership Officer, Partners In Health 

"Frontline workers like me have first-hand experience with the consequences that come as a result of lawmakers' decisions. This pandemic has been a stark reminder of how underfunding affects care delivery, and sadly, it's only widened existing gaps. Senator Gillibrand and Senator Bennet's "Health Force" bill will invest in the good jobs and public health infrastructure our communities need to beat this virus. We need similar leadership from others to turn the corner and fully recover from the effects of this unprecedented health crisis."  — Shamika Ossey, Registered Nurse with the LA County Department of Public Health Emergency Preparedness & Response Division on behalf of SEIU

“At a time when so many Americans are under or unemployed, and suffering financially due to COVID-19, the Health Force, Resilience Force, and Jobs to Fight COVID Act would create much-needed jobs by employing community health frontline workers. Equally important, it will combat health inequities by recruiting individuals who are reflective of the communities they serve, thereby leveraging assets within communities hardest hit by the pandemic.” — Amber Hewitt, Director of Health Equity, Families USA

In addition to Bennet, Gillibrand, Schatz, Markey, and Van Hollen, this legislation is also cosponsored by U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), and Jack Reed (D-R.I.). This bicameral legislation will be introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by U.S. Representatives Jason Crow (D-Colo.), Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.), Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.), and Dean Phillips (D-Minn.).

The full list of Health Force endorsements is available HERE. A one pager of the Health Force, Resilience Force, and Jobs to Fight COVID-19 Act is available HERE. A section-by-section of the bill is available HERE