Opinion: How Congress can give our health care warriors what they need now
Every night in New York City, you can hear the clanging of pots and pans, the honking of horns, and the cheers of residents from windows and fire escapes above ghostly streets, as neighbors salute health care workers. Moral support is uplifting and warms our hearts. But we can do so much more for the people on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.
America properly honors and supports our wounded warriors. It is time to do the same for our warriors for the wounded. They do not need armored vehicles. They need reliable stockpiles of personal protective equipment. We must never again force health care workers to improvise medical gear by simply cobbling together whatever supplies they can find, turning their survival into an arts and crafts project. We do not expect military generals to bid against each other to procure wartime supplies, so why on earth do we allow governors to do so as they seek ventilators and medicines?
Congress needs to pass the Helping Emergency Responders Overcome Emergency Situations Act, introduced by Republican Representative Bill Huizenga of Michigan, to provide a federal income tax holiday that lasts four months for health care workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. The legislation parallels the income tax exemption for active duty United States military service members out in combat zones.
Congress needs to pass the Student Debt Forgiveness for Frontline Health Care Workers Act, started by Democratic Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York, to ease the massive financial burden on health care workers. The legislation helps reduce graduate school debt for those who provide direct patient caregiving in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Congress needs to pass the Helping Health Care Workers Afford Child and Elder Care Act, sponsored by Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, to assist health care workers with child and elder care so that they can continue to treat patients in the coronavirus pandemic.
Congress should provide educational opportunities to health care workers similar to those for military veterans, like portable tuition support to allow nurses, physician assistants, hospital custodians, ambulance drivers, and many others to achieve stackable credits to advance their careers.
President Trump needs to strengthen the strategic national stockpile of medical supplies, which appeared wobbly at the outset of this crisis. The government needs to invest more resources in the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which will “support the transition of medical countermeasures such as vaccines, drugs, and diagnostics from research through advanced development” for consideration for approval by the Food and Drug Administration and inclusion in the stockpile.
The government should relieve the pressure on our health care workers by gathering intelligence on future pandemics spreading in other countries. The White House should revive the National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, which it dismantled more than a year ago and would have been extremely useful in the crisis today.
Trump refers to the coronavirus as the “silent enemy” and described his role as somewhat of a “wartime president.” During his State of the Union address two months ago, he said, “We have purchased the finest planes, missiles, rockets, ships, and every other form of military equipment.” So if Trump wants to truly be a wartime president, then he along with the rest of the country should treat our health care workers as warriors, not only by banging pots and pans, but by banging out actionable policies.
Steve Israel represented New York in Congress for 16 years and was the chairman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now the director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. You can find him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael.