Gillibrand, Bennet propose hiring thousands for new 'Health Force'

Gillibrand, Bennet propose hiring thousands for new 'Health Force'
© Greg Nash

Sens. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandSanders offers bill to tax billionaires' wealth gains during pandemic Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Progressives soaring after big primary night MORE (D-N.Y.) and Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetHow Congress is preventing a Medicare bankruptcy during COVID-19 Tom Cotton rips NY Times for Chinese scientist op-ed criticizing US coronavirus response Our national forests need protection — and Congress can help MORE (D-Colo.) on Wednesday announced new legislation aimed at hiring hundreds of thousands of new public health workers into a "Health Force" modeled after New Deal programs during the Great Depression. 

The bill would provide $55 billion per year to hire hundreds of thousands of people who would help carry out testing, contact tracing and eventually vaccinating to fight the coronavirus. 

The push comes as overwhelmed local health departments are facing the need to hire thousands of health workers to do contact tracing, the process of finding people that have been in contact with infected individuals and informing them so they can quarantine themselves. 

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The senators said the need for thousands more health workers combined with record unemployment levels illustrates the need for their measure.

Gillibrand compared the program to the Works Progress Administration of the 1930s.

“We must take the same kind of bold action now in the face of twin health and economic threats,” she said on a press call.  

The senators said they would push for the measure to be included in the next coronavirus relief bill, and they are working with Sens. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsOn The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Senators introduce bill to block Trump armed drone sale measure Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire MORE (D-Del.) and Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinOn The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic MORE (D-Ill.), who have proposed a related measure to provide funding for expanding national service programs. 

Illustrating the need for more workers, former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden has estimated that as many as 300,000 workers are needed to conduct contact tracing, a key step in safely reopening the economy. 

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“If we’re going to safely reopen the economy we're going to need the kind of public health surge this bill envisions, and I think young people are eager to be a part of that,” Bennet said. 

The response bill that passed the Senate on Tuesday includes $25 billion for testing and contact tracing, but the senators said that is just a start and more is needed.  

The proposed new funding is “going to cost nothing compared to the money that’s saved if we can keep our economy open,” Bennet said.  

With only the current public health infrastructure, he said, “we won’t be able to keep this economy open.”