Underwood Introduces Legislation to Create Health Force to Create Jobs, Strengthen Public Health Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic

May 8, 2020
Press Release
Health Force would provide training and employment to job-seeking Americans; Inspired by the Depression-era Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps

WASHINGTON— Today, Representatives Lauren Underwood (IL-14), Jason Crow (CO-06), and Jimmy Panetta (CA-20) introduced new legislation to establish the "Health Force." The Health Force and Resilience Force Act would recruit, train, and employ Americans to expand our public health workforce to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and strengthen America's long-term public health infrastructure. In addition to helping solve our public health worker shortage, the bill would help provide jobs for thousands of recently unemployed Americans and support the country's recovery efforts. The legislation is championed in the Senate by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). 
"We cannot reopen our country without making necessary investments to expand our testing capacity, conduct contact tracing, and protect the health and safety of our communities," said Congresswoman Underwood. "I've joined Representatives Crow and Panetta to introduce the bicameral Health Force and Resilience Force Act to meet our country's urgent public health needs so we can reopen our economy safely and sustainably. We are facing a once-in-a-generation crisis, and this bill is a bold solution that rises to meet the great challenge ahead of us." 

The Health Force is inspired by the Depression-era Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps, which similarly put unemployed Americans back to work to help the nation recover from a sharp economic downturn. The Health Force would create a federally supported and locally managed program to train and deploy essential public and community health frontline workers, who could support local testing, contact tracing, or eventual vaccine administration efforts. These positions would complement America's highly skilled health care workers already fighting on the front lines. The Health Force would be responsible for: 

  • Conducting contact tracing; 
  • Supporting the administration of COVID-19 tests; and 
  • Providing support that addresses 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. 
  • After the current public health crisis concludes, the Health Force would continue to support state and local public health departments to address ongoing public health needs and respond to future public health emergencies. These activities could include sharing public health messages with community members; helping community members address social, economic, behavioral, and preventive health needs; and providing support to improve health programming in hard-to-reach communities. 

This legislation also includes the Resilience Force, a proposal led by U.S. Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), which mobilizes individuals at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the fight against the coronavirus by providing funding needed to hire and train 62,000 additional FEMA Cadre of On-Call Response/Recovery Employees (CORE) employees. The Resilience Force would be responsible for: 

  • Providing logistical support for emergency procurement of medical equipment and other goods involved in COVID-19 response efforts; 
  • Supporting COVID-19 testing  and surveillance activities; and 
  • Providing other disaster preparedness and response functions for other emergencies and natural disasters.  

The Health Force and Resilience Force Act is endorsed by the National Coalition of STD Directors, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, Service Year, Resilience Force, and Former FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate.

"To fight back against this pandemic, we need a significant federal investment in our state health departments to scale up contact tracing and testing. By investing in a "Health Force" of disease intervention specialists (DIS) and other contact tracers, Senators Gillibrand and Bennet and Representatives Underwood, Crow, and Panetta lay out a clear, sound public health strategy that will reopen our economy, keep it open, and replace thousands of much needed jobs. We urge other congressional members to support the 'Health Force and Resilience Force Act of 2020," said Taryn Couture, Associate Director for Policy and Government Relations at the National Coalition of STD Directors.  

"I am an enthusiastic supporter of the Health Force and Resilience Force Act of 2020. Creating a new national service program will mobilize the nation to fight the coronavirus. By creating jobs in the service of health and reopening, this bill is a double dose of economic recovery," said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, Professor of the Practice at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health