March 12, 2021

Sen. Warren and Rep. Lee Reintroduce Legislation to Invest in COVID-19 Resources for Medically Underserved Communities

Bill Text (PDF) | One-Pager (PDF)

Washington, DC – Today, United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA-13) reintroduced the COVID Community Care Act—legislation that provides emergency funding for community organizations in medically underserved communities that suffer from health disparities to take action as part of the larger public health effort to contain COVID-19.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted communities of color and Native communities. Black and Latinx people are dying at over twice the rate of white Americans and are dying from COVID-19 at younger ages. American Indians and Alaska Natives have also been getting infected and dying of COVID-19 at elevated rates, and have been especially hard hit by the pandemic and its economic effects.  

The COVID Community Care Act empowers trusted organizations in underserved communities to address mistrust of public health information and provides timely services to combat COVID-19. The legislation invests in community-based organizations and nonprofits to conduct vaccinations, testing, tracing, and outreach activities in communities with higher rates of the virus or who have historically lacked access to the health care system. The bill also requires that persons hired to conduct engagement have experience and relationships with the people living in the communities they serve, ensuring that critical, life-saving information is coming from trusted, culturally and linguistically appropriate messengers.  

“COVID-19 has laid bare the systemic racism embedded in the U.S. health care system, including how our country's legacy of discrimination has prevented communities of color from accessing the health care services they need,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren. “Addressing health disparities takes a multi-faceted approach, and my bill with Congresswoman Lee would fund local leaders to fight COVID-19 in their own communities and provide much-needed financial support to communities disproportionately hurt by this pandemic." 

"COVID-19 continues to devastate Black, Latinx, Asian and Indigenous communities due to structural racism and public health disparities," said Congresswoman Barbara Lee. "In order to address this crisis, we must empower people and organizations at the local level to build trust and get lifesaving public health information and resources to those who need it most. I'm appreciative of Senator Warren's leadership in the Senate to move this crucial legislation forward. The COVID Community Care Act will ensure that testing, contact tracing, and resources get to communities of color who have been hit the hardest by this pandemic." 

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. Vaccinating, contact tracing, testing, and public communication are some of the most effective tools we have for slowing the spread of COVID-19, but they require trust between health care workers and communities. A legacy of discrimination in our health care has created mistrust among Black and Brown people and in Native communities 

In order to address public health inequities and tackle COVID-19 in 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 last two COVID relief packages included provisions consistent with the COVID Community Care Act. The American Rescue Plan (ARP), which passed out of Congress earlier this week, included the following language based on Senator Warren's and Rep. Lee’s legislation: 

  • $7.5 billion for CDC with explicit uses of funds for underserved populations and COVID-19-related activities in our communities, including community vaccination centers, mobile vaccination units, and transportation of individuals to facilitate vaccinations, particularly for underserved populations. 

  • $1 billion in funding for vaccine confidence activities through the CDC. The goal is to increase vaccine confidence, increase education on the vaccine, and improve vaccination rates. 

  • $47.8 billion in funding for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and mitigation activities. Most notably, as envisioned by the COVID Community Care Act, the ARP includes partnerships with academic and research laboratories, community-based testing sites and community-based organizations; or mobile health units, particularly in medically underserved areas. The funding can also be used to improve data collection and expand the public workforce.

  • $7.6 billion in funding for community health centers to provide vaccination, testing, tracing, and community outreach and education activities related to COVID–19. 

  • $7.66 billion to expand the public health workforce. This funding can be used to recruit, hire, and train of individuals, including those employed by a nonprofit private or public organization with demonstrated expertise in implementing public health programs and established relationships with such State, territorial, or local public health departments, particularly in medically underserved areas. 

  • More than $6 billion for Native health systems, including the Indian Health Service, part of the largest Federal investment in history for Native programs.  

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, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Partners in Health, SEIU, Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organization, Asian Health Services, Human Rights Campaign, Justice in Aging, and National Immigration Law Center. 

The Senate bill was introduced by Senator Warren in the 116th Congress and is co-sponsored by Senators Alex Padilla (D-CA), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Tine Smith (D-MN), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)

The House bill (H.R. 8192) was introduced by Representative Lee in the 116th Congress and is co-sponsored by Representatives Joyce Beatty (D-OH-03), Judy Chu (D-CA-27), Robin L. Kelly (D-IL-02), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Delaware-At Large), Jesús G. "Chuy" García (D-IL-04), Jahana Hayes (D-CT-05), Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY-09), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA-07), Albio Sires (D-NJ-08), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ-12), Marilyn Strickland (D-WA-10), Adam Smith (D-WA-09), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA-07), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA-47), Katie Porter (D-CA-45), James P. McGovern (D-MA-02), Al Green (D-TX-09), André Carson (D-IN-07), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL-23), Tony Cárdenas (D-CA-29), Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL-20), Henry C. "Hank" Johnson, Jr. (D-GA-04), Ted W. Lieu (D-CA-33), Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA-5), Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA-11), Ro Khanna (D-CA-17), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR-03), Jackie Speier (D-CA-14), Michael F.Q. San Nicolas (D-GU-At Large), Cori Bush (D-MO-01), Kaiali'i Kahele (D-HI-02), Chellie Pingree (D-ME-01), Mondaire Jones (D-NY-17), Jamie Raskin (D-MD-08), and Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS-02). 

Senator Warren introduced the Senate companion in the last Congress.