(January 10, 2022) — As the 117th Congress begins its work in 2022, it is critical that it seeks to bolster the nation’s public health system and address longstanding inequities that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. As the country continues to grapple with the health and economic impacts of COVID-19, Congress has the opportunity to make urgent investments in core public health infrastructure, to modernize national, state and local public health laboratory systems, and to direct much needed resources to address current and longstanding public health challenges. As Congress considers the next steps for the Build Back Better Act, TFAH recommends that the following policies be prioritized as negotiations move forward:
- Investing in chronically underfunded public health infrastructure to address the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure that public health is better equipped to effectively respond to future health threats. The pandemic exposed the impact of outdated, understaffed health departments. The Build Back Better Act includes $8.4 billion in funding to enable health departments to address longstanding infrastructure and workforce gaps and modernize public health data systems and laboratories across the country. TFAH recommends an additional $4.5 billion annual investment to support and sustain federal, state, local, territorial, and Tribal foundational public health capabilities.
- Expanding availability of nutritious foods to ensure children, regardless of their socioeconomic status, can access high-quality, nutritious meals when school is in session and during school closures. The Build Back Better Act includes provisions to expand the Community Eligibility Program (CEP), invest in a Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) program, and establish a Healthy Food Incentives Demonstration to support schools in developing healthy food offerings. TFAH also recommends extending Healthy School Meals for All, which provides students access to school meals at no charge regardless of their family income as a step to ending child hunger and ensuring access to healthy foods.
- Increasing access to life-saving behavioral health programs. The Build Back Better Act includes $2.5 billion in funding to support public health approaches to reduce community violence and trauma, $75 million to support the infrastructure of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and $15 million to support the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Project Aware program, which helps schools promote the mental health of their students. TFAH recommends focusing on primary prevention of behavioral health concerns, including through suicide and Adverse Childhood Experiences prevention and increasing investments in social-emotional learning and wellness in schools.
- Investing in early childhood education and services to ensure families have access to high-quality childcare and early education. The Build Back Better Act includes $400 billion to establish a birth-through-five childcare and early learning entitlement program, bolster Head Start, create a universal preschool program, and significantly strengthen the early childhood education workforce through training and increased pay.
- Establishing a comprehensive paid family and medical leave policy to ensure workers can take time off to address health or caregiving needs. The Build Back Better Act includes provisions that grew out of the FAMILY Act and would provide up to 12 weeks of partial income while employees take family or medical leave. Access to paid family and medical leave can help control disease outbreaks, improve parental and child health, and contribute to a healthier, more productive workforce.
- Increasing access to safe and affordable housing to address housing insecurity amongst low-income families. Stable and healthy housing is a significant social determinant of health. The Build Back Better Act includes $24 billion for new Housing Choice Vouchers and supportive services, $5 billion to address lead paint and other health hazards, $15 billion to support the preservation and creation of rental homes for low-income households, and $500 million to expand the supply of affordable housing with supportive services for older adults.