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December 20, 2021

Pressley, Watson Coleman Lead Letter to President Biden and Secretary Becerra to Highlight Needs of Children Who Have Lost Caretakers to COVID

Text of Letter (PDF) 

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12) led 21 of their colleagues in a letter to President Joe Biden and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra urging them to prioritize the needs of children who have lost parents and caregivers to COVID-19. 

The letter reads in part: 

“As Members of Congress, we are concerned that these bereaved children are not receiving support, both specialized mental health counseling as well as financial assistance, in order to recover from the trauma of losing a loved one.”  

According to a recent report released by COVID Collaborative, there are an estimated 167,000 children in the United States – or 1-in-450 of all children – who have lost a parent or in-home caregiver to COVID-19, including more than 13,000 children who lost their only in-home caregiver.  Roughly seventy percent of caregiver loss affected children under the age of 13. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted unspeakable hurt, harm and trauma on millions of families and communities across the country– especially the hundreds of thousands of young children who were robbed of a parent or grandparent caretaker,” Rep. Pressley said in a statement alongside the letter. “This unprecedented loss and grief will have lasting impacts on an entire generation of young people and exacerbate the childhood trauma crisis that was already prevalent in so many of our most vulnerable communities. It is critical that we respond with urgency and prioritize their wellbeing so they can get the care and support they need to get on a pathway to healing. I’m grateful to Congresswoman Watson Coleman and our colleagues for their partnership in this effort.” 

“The loss of a parent is a traumatic experience for any child. The sheer number of children who have lost caregivers to this disease is tragic and will impact a generation,” said Rep. Watson Coleman. “Ensuring that they receive the care they need including mental health care should be a priority for the country.” 

Research suggests that bereaved children have a higher risk of lower educational attainment, economic insecurity, early death, substance abuse, and mental health problems.


The letter concludes: 

“We believe it is critical to address the growing number of children who are experiencing traumatic loss and ensure that resources are available to them to both cope with the loss of a caregiver and fulfill their basic needs. Because of this, we request a response on the following questions:

    What resources and financial support is the Administration currently providing to children who have lost a parent or caregiver due to COVID-19? Are any funds from previous COVID stimulus packages being dedicated towards supporting bereaved children? If so, what type of support are they receiving? Are there federal assistance programs available to support low-income families who may have lost their primary-income provider and caregiver due to COVID-19? What barriers currently exist for families to access these programs? What steps is your administration taking or planning to take to better identify bereaved children and ensure they and their families have timely access to federal resources and assistance?” 

Signatories of the letter include Reps. Grace Napolitano (CA-32), Madeleine Dean (PA-04), Norma Torres (CA-35), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Derek Kilmer (WA-06), Yvette D. Clarke (NY-09), Jamaal Bowman (NY-16), Karen Bass (CA-37), Ilhan Omar (MN-05), Sara Jacobs (CA-53), Dwight Evans (PA-03), Ritchie Torres (NY-15), Donald Payne Jr. (NJ-10), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-AL), André Carson (IN-07), James P. McGovern (MA-02), Danny K. Davis (IL-07), John B. Larson (CT-01), Grace Meng (NY-06) and Ro Khanna (CA-17). 

The letter can be read in full here. 

Throughout her career, Congresswoman Pressley has been a tireless advocate for trauma-conscious policymaking.  In June 2021, Rep. Pressley reintroduced the STRONG Support for Children Act, her landmark legislation that takes a holistic and community-based approach to addressing the growing crisis of childhood trauma. 

In October 2021, Rep. Pressley, along with Reps. Dina Titus (NV-01), David McKinley (WV-01) and Peter Meijer (MI-03), unveiled the Post-Disaster Mental Health Response Act, legislation to expand mental health supports for survivors of natural disasters and terrorist attacks that do not receive a “Major Disaster” declaration by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). 

In March 2021, Rep. Pressley sent a letter to President Biden calling on him to address the nation’s growing trauma crisis and laying out a series of steps the administration should take to confront the far-reaching hurt plaguing our communities and our nation.  In April, she published an op-ed where she reflected on the collective pain experienced by communities in her district over the past year. 

In July 2019, Rep. Pressley worked with Chairman Cummings to convene the first-ever Congressional hearings on childhood trauma.  Watch Congresswoman Pressley’s full question line and follow-up questions here and here. 

As a Boston City Councilor, she convened the Council’s first-ever listening-only session to hear directly from those impacted by the trauma of community gun violence.