Phillips, Crow, Underwood, Panetta, and Colleagues to Introduce Bicameral Health Force, Resilience Force, And Jobs to Fight COVID-19 Act to Combat Public Health and Economic Crises

January 21, 2021
Press Release
The Bicameral Legislation Is Led in the Senate by Senators Gillibrand and Bennet

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Representatives Dean Phillips, Jason Crow, Jimmy Panetta, and Lauren Underwood announced the introduction of the Health Force, Resilience Force, and Jobs to Fight COVID-19 Act, legislation that would invest billions in the nation’s public health jobs and infrastructure and aid the country’s lagging vaccine distribution campaign. The bicameral legislation will be introduced in the Senate by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Michael Bennet, Brian Schatz, Ed Markey, Chris Van Hollen, Amy Klobuchar, Richard Blumenthal, Cory Booker, Bob Casey, Tammy Duckworth, and Jack Reed . The Health Force, Resilience Force, and Jobs to Fight COVID-19 Act (Health Force), championed by the senators, would invest billions in local public health infrastructure to recruit, train and employ hundreds of thousands of Americans to build public health capacity in underserved communities. Additionally, the Resilience Force would complement the Health Force by bolstering the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) workforce in the whole-of-government effort to combat the COVID-19 outbreak. These public health workers could respond to a surge in COVID-19 patients and administer and distribute vaccines. As the United States continues to battle the coronavirus pandemic and rebuild the economy, the Health Force would support already overburdened state and local health departments, provide jobs for thousands of recently unemployed Americans, and directly support the nation’s efforts to recover from the current crises. 

“These are unprecedented times that demand thoughtful but expedient action to save lives. Americans deserve a coordinated, fully-funded government response,” said Rep. Dean Phillips. National service is a time-honored American tradition that is needed as we respond to the coronavirus pandemic. The Health Force, Resilience Force, and Jobs to Fight COVID-19 Act will allow us to provide a whole-of-government response to the COVID-19 pandemic that employs those who have lost their jobs or who’ve become underemployed, delivers relief to understaffed frontline workers, and gets the vaccine to people across the country expediently."

“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 Senator 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.”

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. 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,” said Senator Michael Bennet.

“With nearly 31 million people unemployed, we need solutions that meet the scale of the problem,” said Senator 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.”

“I am pleased to join forces with Senators Gillibrand and Bennet in building upon the UNITE Act that I introduced with Senator Van Hollen last Congress,” said Senator Markey. “This bill creates full-time employment opportunities for Americans to immediately serve their country in a new Health Corps under the CDC and building out an existing cadre of first responders at FEMA. FEMA is uniquely positioned to help the Biden administration deliver on its mission to mission to deliver 100 hundred million COVID-19 vaccinations in its first 100 days. The Resilience Force will also help fortify our public health infrastructure and help our most vulnerable communities better prepare against future emergencies - from wildfires to hurricanes to 1,000-year floods.”

“We must mobilize the full extent of our national resources to defeat COVID 19. This plan leverages the huge potential of our workforce, tackling the coronavirus head-on by boosting our capacity to vaccinate, test for, and treat this disease while also putting more Americans back to work. I was proud to call for such action in the UNITE Act with Senator Markey, and I’m pleased we expand upon that effort here,” said Senator Van Hollen.

“The coronavirus pandemic has created the greatest health threat in a generation and triggered the worst jobs crisis since the Great Depression. Now, with vaccine rollout underway, investing in community-based public health jobs to improve vaccine education, outreach, and completion rates has never been more important,” said Senator Klobuchar. “This new legislation will provide the resources needed to get folks back to work and effectively combat this virus.”

“The Health Force mobilized by this legislation will help our country overcome the COVID-19 crisis. Through a surge of federal investment, hundreds of thousands of Americans will be recruited, trained, and put to work aiding our struggling public health system. With their reinforcement, strained state and local health departments will have all hands on deck to respond to surges of patients with COVID-19 and to help in getting vaccinations to all Americans,” said Senator Blumenthal.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing disparities and challenges in health care access and outcomes. To meet the scale of this public health crisis we need a bold approach that ensures every community has the resources it needs to recover and rebuild,” said Senator Booker. “The Health Force, Resilience Force, and Jobs to Fight COVID-19 Act will help to get this virus under control, create jobs and invest in building more equitable health system in every community.”

“The public health and economic crises caused by COVID-19 have ravaged our communities. We’ve lost more than 400,000 Americans, and counting, and there are millions of people out of work who are struggling to put food on the table,” said Senator Casey (D-PA)“Congress must pass the Health Force, Resilience Force, and Jobs to Fight COVID-19 Act in order to address the dual need for more health care workers to respond to the pandemic and good jobs to start rebuilding our economy.”

“Now is the time for bold action. Any hope of defeating this pandemic and getting our country back on track rests on our ability to invest in our public health workforce. This bill does exactly that by employing Americans who may have lost their job from the crisis and investing their energy and talent into combating this disease. In our interconnected world, we need a national response that mobilizes an army of public health workers. The future men and women of the Health Force represent the next generation of service, one that directly addresses the enemy here at home,” said Congressman Crow.

“Congress must do its part to adequately equip state and local governments to combat COVID-19 and other future public health emergencies,” said Congressman Panetta. “Necessities such as accessible testing, isolation for patients, and contact tracing come at a cost and require infrastructure that many state and local governments do not have.  The Health Force will provide the federally funded and locally managed response necessary to cover the cost, coordination, and workforce needed to tackle this pandemic and future public health emergencies.”

“The coronavirus pandemic has left us with a two-pronged crisis from which we must recover; we must create jobs to bring back our economy, and we must protect the health of our communities and stop the spread of the coronavirus. This requires investments to hire Americans to help increase testing capacity, conduct contact tracing, and accelerate the COVID-19 vaccination effort. I’m proud to join my House and Senate colleagues to introduce the Health Force, Resilience Force, and Jobs to Fight COVID-19 Act, which will deliver urgently needed funding  to save lives and rebuild our economy. We are facing a historic crisis and this legislation is a solution that meets the moment and lays the foundation for a healthier, more equitable future,” said Rep. Lauren Underwood.

Community-based public health jobs and resources, like those created by the Health Force, are known to improve local health outcomes, including vaccination rates. The Health Force proposal would ensure the federal government has a proactive and coordinated approach to facilitate vaccine distribution and administration — it would deliver $40 billion a year, for the first two years, to meet the COVID-19 vaccine distribution needs and address the various public health challenges caused by the pandemic.  

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. Health Force will 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 to State, local, territorial, and Tribal public health departments, and their partners across the country, Health Force will ensure that every community is positioned to meet its most pressing needs. 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. Promoting linkages with other health and social programs.

After the current public health crisis concludes, the Health Force would be retained to continue to serve as local, trusted public health workers in their home communities, especially in historically underserved areas.

In addition to the Health Force, the legislation also includes the Resilience Force which would complement the 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. In taking advance 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, including stand up vaccination centers in the hardest hit communities. Resilience Force members could assist with supply chain logistics, rebuild COVID-safe infrastructure for schools and beyond, and aid the emergency procurement of medical, personal protective equipment, and testing supplies.

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), Greater New York Hospital Association, 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, 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 

"The Health Force bill can help us scale vaccination efforts, end the pandemic, create thousands of jobs, and protect the health of our hardest-hit communities. As it paves the way for the US Public Health Jobs Corps, the Health Force bill will mobilize trusted community-based organizations and workers to help fight the pandemic, create jobs to rebuild our public health infrastructure, and fast-track local economic recovery." — Dr. Rishi Manchanda, CEO, HealthBegins 

"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

"FEMA has a unique role to play in hiring a flexible workforce that can respond quickly to disasters like COVID. The Health Force and Resilience Force taps into this powerful workforce to hire and deploy FEMA members to some of our country's hardest hit communities.” – Craig Fugate, Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), 2009-2017

The full list of Health Force endorsements can be found here.

A one pager of the Health Force, Resilience Force, and Jobs to Fight COVID-19 Act can be found here.

A section-by-section of the bill can be found here.