April 22, 2020

Van Hollen, Markey Continue Efforts to Mobilize Americans in Fight Against Coronavirus

Senators join Gillibrand, Bennet to Introduce Expanded Legislation, including Key Components of the Van Hollen, Markey UNITE Act

Today, U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Ed Markey (D-MA) joined Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) in announcing legislation to mobilize and recruit Americans in the response to COVID-19. The Senators’ legislation would create both a Health Force and a Resilience Force to recruit, train, and employ hundreds of thousands of Americans in order to provide public health capacity for the surge in COVID-19 patients, prepare for future public health care needs, and build skills for new workers to enter the public health and health care workforce.

“As our country faces the unprecedented challenges brought on by the coronavirus, we must use the full extent of our national resources to fight back. This plan leverages the huge potential of our workforce, tackling the coronavirus head-on while also putting more Americans back to work. I was proud to first introduce this concept in the UNITE Act with Senator Markey, and I’m pleased we are building on that effort here,” said Senator Van Hollen. 

“I am pleased to join Senators Gillibrand and Bennet in building upon the UNITE Act that I introduced with Senator Van Hollen last week. This bill creates full-time employment opportunities for Americans to immediately serve their country in a new Health Corps under CDC and an existing cadre of first responders at FEMA. We should look to bring the robust contact-tracing initiative piloted in Massachusetts nationwide in order to safely reopen businesses, return to schools, and prevent another Coronavirus outbreak this fall. FEMA is uniquely positioned to deliver on the immediate mission of bringing our country back to health from the Coronavirus as well as responding to the natural disasters we will face in the months to come,” said Senator Markey. 

The Resilience Force, as first proposed in Senator Van Hollen and Markey’s UNITE Act, would mobilize 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) to perform public health and related functions as well as respond to natural disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires. Along with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), FEMA is a key part of the whole-of-government effort needed to combat the COVID-19 outbreak and responsibly reopen the country in phases. However, with a current workforce of approximately 20,000, FEMA must significantly expand to meet the growing national demands of testing, contact tracing, and managing emergency supply chain logistics for states and communities in need. A one-pager on the resilience force can be found here.

“In the face of this unprecedented crisis, Congress must harness American patriotism, resilience, and ingenuity by establishing a Health Force to combat this deadly virus,” said Senator Gillibrand. “The new Health Force will put thousands of Americans back to work, creating a valuable workforce to respond to the coronavirus outbreak and meet existing and emerging public health needs. I’m proud to announce this legislation as part of the National Public Service Package, a vital, innovative approach to respond to this crisis.” 

“This crisis is the greatest challenge our country has faced since World War II. And we can – and must – rise to the challenge with a broad and bold proposal to combat the virus and put our economy back to work at the same time,” said Senator Bennet. “Just as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration mobilized millions of Americans during one of the most trying times in our nation’s history, our new Health Force will help bolster the COVID-19 response and put Americans back to work serving their communities and their country. We need ideas as big as the challenge we face, and the Health Force meets that test.” 

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

This is the second of three proposals under development by a working group of Senate Democrats to address the urgent need to expand the public health and response workforce during and in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. On April 22, a Senate Democratic working group led by Senator Coons (D-DE) released the Pandemic Response and Opportunity Through National Service Actwhich would fund 750,000 national service positions over a three-year response and recovery period.