Pressley, Warren, Lee Reintroduce Bold Legislation to Confront Structural Racism as a Public Health Crisis

February 1, 2021
Press Release
The Anti-Racism in Public Health Act would create a “Center on Anti-Racism in Health” at the CDC, strengthening the federal government’s ability to develop anti-racist health policy

Bill would also create a Law Enforcement Violence Prevention Program to apply a comprehensive public health approach to ending police brutality

Bill Text (PDF) One-Pager (PDF)

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13) reintroduced the Anti-Racism in Public Health Act, a bicameral bill to declare structural racism a public health crisis and confront its public health impacts through two bold new programs within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Structural racism is a public health crisis that continues to ravage Black, Brown and indigenous communities, deny us access to quality health care, and exacerbate the longstanding racial disparities in health outcomes,” said Congresswoman Pressley. “To confront and dismantle the racist systems and practices that create these inequities, we need robust, comprehensive research on the public health impacts of structural racism and policy solutions to bring an end to these disparities once and for all. Congress must pass our bill, which is exactly the type of bold, responsive legislation we have a mandate to deliver. Our communities deserve nothing less.”

"It’s clear that COVID-19 has exacerbated decades of disparities in health outcomes for Black and Brown people,” said Senator Warren. “My bill with Congresswoman Pressley and Congresswoman Lee to create anti-racist federal health policy that studies and addresses these deep disparities in health outcomes at their roots is how we start treating health disparities like the public health crises they are."

“The COVID-19 public health and economic crisis has illustrated the painful legacy of systemic racism in our country,” said Congresswoman Lee. “Black, Brown, and other communities of color are dying at disproportionate rates from this pandemic. We have a moral responsibility to not only confront, but dismantle and denounce centuries of racism in our public health system. We must give this issue the urgency it deserves and declare racism a national public health crisis. Rep. Pressley, Senator Warren, and I remain committed to implementing comprehensive legislation that reverses course and delivers justice for our communities.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it impossible to ignore how centuries of structural racism have created deep disparities in health outcomes for Black and Brown communities: Black and Brown people are nearly three times more likely than white people to contract COVID-19 and one to two times more likely to die from the disease. People of color are also disproportionately affected by chronic health conditions such as diabetes, asthma, hepatitis, and hypertension; infant mortality; maternal mortality and morbidity; and police brutality -- and also less likely to be insured and have access to health care providers.

The federal government’s failure to adequately collect and publish race and ethnicity data on COVID-19 testing, hospitalizations, deaths, and vaccinations has also demonstrated why comprehensive research is needed to study the health impacts of structural racism and to develop race-conscious public health approaches and reverse disparities that have plagued our nation for too long.

To help expand research and investment into the public health impacts of structural racism, as well as to require the federal government to begin actively developing anti-racist health policy, Congresswoman Pressley, Senator Warren, and Congresswoman Lee have introduced the Anti-Racism in Public Health Act, which would:

  • Create a “National Center for Anti-Racism” at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to declare racism as the public health crisis that it is and further develop the research base and knowledge in the science and practice of anti-racism. The Center would undertake such activities as: 
    • Conducting research, collecting data, awarding grants, and providing leadership and coordination on the science and practice of anti-racism in the provision of health care, the public health impacts of systemic racism, and the effectiveness of interventions to address these impacts.
    • Creating at least three regional centers of excellence in anti-racism.
    • Educating the public on the public health impacts of structural racism and anti-racist public health interventions.
    • Consulting with other Centers at the CDC to ensure that scientific and programmatic activities initiated by the agency consider structural racism in their designs, conceptualizations, and executions.
  • Create a Law Enforcement Violence Prevention Program within the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the CDC. Physical and psychological violence perpetuated by law enforcement results in deaths, injuries, trauma, and stress, and disproportionately affects marginalized populations. This bill would take a public health approach to combating police brutality and violence by creating a dedicated law enforcement violence prevention program at the CDC.

The Anti-Racism in Public Health Act, which was originally introduced by the lawmakers in September 2020, is co-sponsored by Reps. Kathy Castor, Jerrold Nadler, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Mark Takano, Danny K. Davis, Sheila Jackson Lee, Brian Higgins, Jim Cooper, Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Albio Sires, Juan Vargas, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Bobby L. Rush, Alcee L. Hastings, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Nikema Williams, Jamaal Bowman, Pramila Jayapal, Nydia M. Velázquez, Joyce Beatty, Cori Bush, Grace Meng, Earl Blumenauer, Mark DeSaulnier, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Adriano Espaillat, Terri A. Sewell, Donald M. Payne, Jr., Ilhan Omar, John Sarbanes, Doris Matsui, Adam Smith, André Carson, Katherine Clark, Steve Cohen, Judy Chu, Ritchie Torres and Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Tina Smith (D-MN).

The bill is endorsed by: Attleboro Council on Human Rights; Attleboro Mayor Paul Heroux; Boston Medical Center; Center for Policing Equity; Center for Popular Democracy; Center for Reproductive Rights; Center for the Study of Racism, Social Justice & Health at UCLA; Community Catalyst; Conference of Boston Teaching Hospitals; Friends of the 7 Acts of Change; Hispanic Federation; Institute for Healing Justice and Equity; Justice in Aging; Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; Leadership Conference on Civil Rights; NAACP; National Birth Equity Collaborative; National Medical Association; National Partnership for Women and Families; National Urban League; National Women's Law Center; People's Action; Physicians for a National Health Program; PolicyLink; Poverty and Race Research Action Council; Public Citizen; Social Security Works; UCLA's Covid-19 Task Force on Racism and Equity; UnidosUS; Union for Reform Judaism; We Must Count Coalition; WhattoExpect and Young Invincibles.

Read The Justice Collaborative’s reportRacism is a Public Health Crisis. Here's How to Respond.

“It is beyond time for the federal government to address the racism in our public health system that has resulted in deep racial and ethnic disparities in health coverage, and worse health outcomes based on race and socioeconomic status,” said Erin Hemlin, Director of Health Policy and Advocacy at Young Invincibles. “The Covid-19 global pandemic and the accompanying economic downturn has further revealed the entrenched systemic racism responsible for the virus’s disproportionate impact on black, indigenous, and communities of color more broadly, leading to higher infection and death rates compared to their white counterparts. Young Invincibles is resolute in our commitment to racial equity and strongly supports The Anti-Racism in Public Health Act of 2020. This bill is an urgently needed step in the direction toward truly achieving health equity.”

“We will never achieve a truly universal health care system that works for everyone without confronting the public health impacts of structural racism,” said Jamila Taylor, Senior Fellow at The Century Foundation. “The Anti-Racism in Public Health Act aims to address key issues at the intersection of health care and racism that are hurting Black Americans day in and day out. Those issues include inequities in health insurance coverage and access, vast racial disparities in chronic health conditions, and the disproportionate impact of police violence. I'm proud of the bold leadership of Representative Ayanna Pressley and Senator Elizabeth Warren in crafting this critical, timely legislation.”

“The enduring legacy of slavery and more than four hundred years of systemic racism have created a public health emergency in the United States. While COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted Communities of Color, we know this is just one symptom of a deeper public health crisis. Racial inequities, including higher rates of chronic health conditions and the disproportionate impact of police violence on Black and Brown communities, pervade our entire society. We have a moral obligation to recognize that racism is a public health crisis and develop interventions to dismantle systems that perpetuate these inequities. We commend Senator Warren, Representative Pressley, and Representative Lee for introducing the Anti-Racism in Public Health Act,” said Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

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