September 09, 2020

Reps. Lee, Bass, Kelly, Chu, Castro, Haaland, Davids Introduce Legislation to Provide COVID-19 Resources to Community Based Organizations in Underserved Communities

Washington, DC – Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13) and Reps. Karen Bass (CA-37), Robin Kelly (IL-2), Judy Chu (CA-27), Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Deb Haaland (NM-1), and Sharice Davids (KS-3) introduced the COVID Community Care Act to establish a contact tracing program through community-based organizations and non-profits.  

Contact tracing is a critical public health resource that helps slow the spread of disease. Contact tracers identify patients and contact all those who may have been infected in order to provide additional resources and services. One of the greatest challenges in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic is building trust between public health officials and communities, especially in in underserved communities that suffer from racial, ethnic or socioeconomic health disparities.   

The legislation will provide $8.4 billion in grants for community-based organizations and non-profits to conduct contact tracing and outreach activities in communities with higher rates of COVID–19, high percentage of minority residents, or who have historically lacked access to the health care system. The bill will require that persons hired to conduct engagement have experience and relationships with the people living in the communities they serve. 

“Systemic racism and inequality are at the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic and many of the crises we see today,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee, senior member of the House Appropriations Committee. “The legacy of discrimination in health care against Black and Brown people continues to impact the distrust between underserved communities and health care workers. It’s time we acted at the community level to build trust and distribute lifesaving public health information. This legislation is an important step in bringing contact tracing and resources to communities of color who have been hit the hardest by this pandemic.”   

“In order for contact tracing to be successful, the community must be involved in coming up with and implementing strategies to combat this virus,” said Rep. Karen Bass, Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. “It’s important that contact tracers are trusted community members. I am proud to stand with Congresswoman Lee on this important piece of legislation and urge Congress to act quickly to help communities being disproportionately impacted by this pandemic.”

“By leveraging existing local non-profits to conduct contract tracing, we can ensure tracers start with community trust, a key element for this work,” said Congresswoman Robin Kelly, Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust. “This program will use existing, local infrastructure to conduct this important field work to slow and eventually end this pandemic.” 

 “After six months and over six million confirmed cases of COVID-19, the Trump administration has failed to implement a nationwide testing and tracing program that slows the spread of the coronavirus and mitigates the disproportionate impacts on Latinos,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro, Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. “Many Americans, Latinos and immigrants in particular, have a mistrust of government, which requires tailored community-based efforts to care for underserved communities. This bill is a smart investment to ensure the communities most harmed by this crisis receive adequate protection through sufficient testing and contact tracing.” 

“The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the deep inequalities in our country’s healthcare system,” said Congresswoman Judy Chu, Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. “Communities of color who are more likely to be working on the front lines, risking their lives to keep our country running, are also less likely to have access to quality healthcare and coronavirus testing. In fact, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus and continue to have among the highest infection and mortality rates out of any racial group in several states. New data also highlights how COVID-19 has devastated the Asian American community by contributing to a 35% increase in mortality for Asian Americans across the country. This disparity is unacceptable and preventable, and that is why the COVID Community Care Act is so important. This bill will increase testing, contact tracing, and outreach to vulnerable communities and do so in a way that is culturally and linguistically competent to ensure everyone is reached. We must not tolerate an unequal healthcare system that allows COVID-19 to spread the most in the communities with the least. I am grateful to Rep. Barbara Lee for introducing this bill and for her ongoing leadership as a champion to promote health equity, which is more critical now than ever.” 

“Communities of color in Kansas and across the country have been disproportionately hurt during this pandemic and they often lack the health care resources needed to protect themselves,” said Congresswoman Sharice Davids, Co-Chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus. “I’m proud to support this legislation to provide much-needed funding for robust testing, tracing, and medical supplies for community and tribal organizations, which are some of our most important tools to combat and end this health care crisis.” 

Our communities rely on contract tracing to keep our families healthy, but the Trump Administration failed to get a comprehensive testing and tracing strategy off the ground. People are losing their loved ones, and we can stop it. The COVID Community Care Act will make sure communities who are impacted by institutional racism have the tools to stop the spread of the virus and stay healthy,” said Congresswoman Deb Haaland, Co-Chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus. 

To read the full text of the bill, click here