Covid-19, Coronavirus, World Health Organization: WHO, International Chamber of Commerce

A comprehensive COVID legislative package to address physical and behavioral health inequities

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, Congressman Tony Cárdenas (CA-29) released his “Cárdenas HEART (Health Equity Access, Resources, and Treatment) Package” – a comprehensive COVID-focused legislative package that includes bills the Congressman has introduced and will introduce in the 117th Congress, to close the widening racial and ethnic health disparity gap. This $1 billion package focuses on a broad range of issues to address the racial health inequities exacerbated by the pandemic and targets relief for vulnerable and underserved communities.

Congressman Tony Cardenas
Congressman Tony Cardenas

“Communities of color, like the ones in the San Fernando Valley, are being devastated by the pandemic. People of color are disproportionately dying and reporting higher confirmed cases of COVID-19 and historic levels of anxiety and depression due to COVID. We need targeted relief for our communities. While Congressional Democrats have tried to take care of all Americans, President Trump and Senate Republicans have repeatedly stood in the way and pushed communities of color to the back of the line. All while communities of color have shouldered front-line work throughout the pandemic so others can stay safe.

“Now that Democrats are in the majority in both chambers of Congress and have an ally in the White House, we can address the massive inequities that have been made worse by the pandemic. That’s why I introduced my Cárdenas HEART Package – to tackle these problems head-on with a whole-of-care approach to support all Americans, including communities of color. Everyone deserves access to healthcare regardless of economic status or zip code. The greatness of a nation is not measured by the stock market or military size; it is measured by how it treats its people. All of its people.” 


Last summer, Cárdenas sent a letter to House Leadership urging them to prioritize vulnerable communities and people of color in COVID relief negotiations. The letter highlighted the disproportionate impact of COVID on people of color and how underserved communities did not have access to government relief programs. An AP article published in December reported that “thousands of minority-owned small businesses were at the end of the line in the government’s coronavirus relief program as many struggled to find banks that would accept their applications or were disadvantaged by the terms of the program.”

In California, Latinos are now 2.6 times more likely than white individuals to test positive. Latino and Black people have not only contracted the virus at higher rates than their white counterparts, but they also die more often from the virus. Latinos compose 36.6% of the CA population but represent 46.1% of the states COVID-19 deaths. In Los Angeles County, Latino residents are dying at eight times the rate they were in early November. Latino residents in L.A. County are dying at an astonishing eight times the rate they once did — from 3.5 daily deaths per 100,000 in early November to 28 deaths a day now for every 100,000. The COVID-19 mortality rate among Black residents soared from 1 death a day per 100,000 to more than 15 deaths a day per 100,000. Among Asian Americans, the death rate has grown from 1 to 12 daily deaths per 100,000 residents.

While 55% of Latinos work in essential services, a study conducted by Pew Research Center found that the Latino households were more likely to experience a pay cut or job loss due to COVID-19 than other communities.

Last summer, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a study highlighting the increase in reported mental health challenges related to the pandemic in communities of color. Overall and across demographics, symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder increased considerably in the United States during April–June of 2020, compared with the same period in 2019. The report stated that, “the percentage of respondents who reported having seriously considered suicide in the 30 days before completing the survey (10.7%) was significantly higher among respondents aged 18–24 years (25.5%), minority racial/ethnic groups (Hispanic respondents [18.6%], non-Hispanic black [black] respondents [15.1%]), self-reported unpaid caregivers for adults (30.7%), and essential workers (21.7%).”


Included in the HEART package are policy priorities and several bills that Cárdenas will introduce in the coming weeks.

Health Equity

Stronger Medicaid Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic Act

Summary: Expands the scope of emergency services available for individuals who don’t meet Medicaid’s citizenship requirements including vital services like testing, treatment, and vaccinations for COVID-19.

Strengthening Mental Health Supports for BIPOC Communities Act

Summary: Requires state plans to report to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) information related to services provided to address health inequities within Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities and outcomes experienced, outreach to and the hiring of BIPOC providers from multiple disciplines of mental health services, and training to providers on culturally and linguistically responsive services.

COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act

Summary: Authorizes various efforts to address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color and other populations that have been made vulnerable to the pandemic.

Task Force on Physician Shortages Act

Summary: Directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to create a task force to study physician shortages, as well as barriers for physicians who trained abroad and now reside and want to practice medicine in the U.S.

Behavioral Health

Strengthening Behavioral Health Supports for Schools Act

Summary: Authorizes funding for SAMHSA to operate a technical assistance and training center to provide schools and school systems with behavioral health support and services for students during the pandemic and beyond.

Youth Suicide Prevention Act

Summary: Authorizes the Secretary of HHS to establish a grant program to promote comprehensive mental health and suicide prevention efforts in high schools. 

Virtual Community Support Act

Summary: Strengthens community-based and peer support behavioral health services during and after the pandemic. Creates a new program at SAMHSA to provide training and development to increase the workforce, enable providers and peers to move their services virtually, and help identify and coordinate care for those who need access to multiple services.

Crisis Counseling Act

Summary: Automatically approves requests by any state, territory, and tribe for a Crisis Counseling and Training Program after it had been granted a Stafford Act declaration. The program is administered by FEMA and SAMHSA to assist communities in recovering from the effects of disasters through community-based outreach, psycho-educational services, and other mental health assistance and training activities. Removing these bureaucratic hurdles prevents delays in COVID-19 support for communities.


Expanding Access to Emergency Meals Act

Summary: Amends the Stafford Act to explicitly allow individuals participating in SNAP and other United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrition programs to also participate in feeding programs funded using FEMA Public Assistance funds.

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