Cori Bush introduces bill to fund ‘health-centered approach’ to public safety

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.)
Greg Nash

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) has introduced legislation that seeks to invest in a health-centered approach to public safety by establishing a public safety division within the Department of Human Health and Services (HHS). 

Under the People’s Response Act, the new division would fund and coordinate support for programs related to non-carceral investments in public safety, as well as establish “a trauma-informed federal response unit that can be deployed to communities to support state and local governments in responding to emergency situations, substance use, and mental health crises,” Bush said. 

“Public safety is a public health issue. It’s time our approach reflects that,” said Bush, a nurse and activist who became the first Black woman elected to represent Missouri in Congress last year.

The new bill seeks to remodel public safety “into a system of care rather than criminalization, healing rather than incarceration, and prevention rather than policing,” she stated.

In addition to forming the new division within the HHS, the bill would also put $2.5 billion toward establishing a grant her office said would provide funding to state, local and tribal governments, in addition to community organizations, to hire licensed social workers, mental health counselors, substance use counselors and peer support specialists as emergency first responders.

The bill would also provide $7.5 billion in grant funding to state and local governments and community-based organizations to fund public safety and build upon crisis response.

Bush is lead sponsor of the legislation. Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) are also co-sponsoring the bill, which Bush’s office has touted has the backing of more than 70 organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), MoveOn, the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund.

“For too long, our flawed approach to public safety has centered on criminalization, surveillance and incarceration, rather than care, justice and healing,” Pressley said in a statement.

She said the new bill “would help change that by directing the federal government to take a health-centered approach to public safety and investing in trauma-informed, community-based responses that will truly keep people safe.”

Schakowsky also said she’s “proud” to join her colleagues in introducing the measure, which she said is “urgently needed.”

“It is well past time we take a public health approach to public safety. We can no longer afford to criminalize and incarcerate those who simply need care – from addressing mental illness, drug addiction, and homelessness, the people deserve well-trained, compassionate first responders. The people deserve the People’s Response Act,” she said.

Proponents of the bill say the legislation aims to invest in alternatives to incarceration and policing that the sponsors say will “save lives” after a nationwide reckoning on race prompted by the police murder of George Floyd last year brought police treatment of Black Americans and other minorities under widespread scrutiny. 

“Following a summer of protests to save Black lives, elected officials have a duty to respond to the demands of the people. Across the country, millions mobilized to demand that we transform our system of public safety to build a future where Black, brown, Indigenous, and marginalized communities can live full and joyous lives,” Bush said.

According to data provided by Bush’s office, those who have untreated mental health disorders are 16 times more likely to be killed in a police encounter than those who do not.

The data also showed that nearly 25 percent of those killed by law enforcement officials suffered from a mental health disorder.

Tags Ayanna Pressley Jan Schakowsky Pramila Jayapal

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