The House plans to introduce a bipartisan bill on Tuesday to create a National Public Health Corps that would employ hundreds of thousands to help conduct testing, contact tracing and eventually vaccinations of those infected or potentially infected with coronavirus.
The legislation aims to address the health and economic crisis by helping to create a national testing strategy and hire Americans who are searching for jobs in a weak market.
First-term Reps. Chrissy Houlahan, a Pennsylvania Democrat, and Michael Waltz, a Florida Republican, told CNN that their common background was their motivation in trying to give Americans a way to express their common purpose. For months, Houlahan, a captain in the Air Force Reserve, and Waltz, a Green Beret, have teamed up on public service legislation.
“It’s important to continue that tradition of service, especially in times of great distress and need,” said Houlahan. “We are definitely in one of those times.”
Waltz added that this bill would provide a “societal benefit,” helping individuals learn leadership skills and discipline. Waltz also pointed out that Peace Corps volunteers and other national service participants have lost their jobs during the pandemic and that the federal government could “repurpose” them for this program to address the crisis.
“If we have taxpayer dollars going out the door for these service programs, let’s get a return on that investment that the nation needs right now,” Waltz said.
The corps would serve within the Corporation for National and Community Service and partner with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Health and Human Services in placing the members across the country. Houlahan estimated that the program could initially hire about 200,000 to 300,000 people and would cost millions of dollars, a fraction of the trillion-dollar legislation the House is considering as soon as this week.
“I surely would hope that something like this would be included in it,” Houlahan said.
There’s support for similar legislation in the Senate. Sens. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, and Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican, proposed in a recent CNN op-ed to “rapidly expand our existing national service programs like AmeriCorps” in order to hire hundreds of thousands of new workers to test millions of Americans and trace those who might be infected.
“If we offer our citizens opportunities to serve their communities and help our country recover from this crisis – all while building skills and earning a paycheck along the way – we know that hundreds of thousands will raise their hands, roll up their sleeves, and get to work,” they wrote.