What We’re Watching in Congress – June 2020

As the United States passes the tragic milestone of 100,000 deaths due to COVID-19, Congress continues to grapple with how best to address the health and economic consequences of the pandemic. At 1,000 Days, we know that women, infants and young children, while not at highest risk for severe illness due to coronavirus, are extremely vulnerable to the economic fallout. They need short term economic supports and assistance—and a long term investment in the programs and policies that ensure a healthy first 1,000 days.

Here are a few key issues we are monitoring on Capitol Hill this month:

Additional legislation in response to the coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic crisis

Last month, the House passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, largely along party lines. This sweeping legislation addressed many of the economic and public health effects of COVID-19 and includes vital funding for state, local and tribal governments to bolster their emergency response. It also includes several important provisions to protect the health and wellbeing of pregnant women, infants and young children, including increased funding and flexibility for the Special Supplemental Nutrition for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, expanded SNAP benefits and additional funds for Medicaid. Crucially, the HEROES Act also addresses many of the gaps in the emergency sick and family leave laws established in the March Families First Coronavirus Response Act (P.L. 116-127), which established a national program allowing workers to take paid short term leave to quarantine or care for themselves or a loved one sick with COVID-19, or longer leave to care for a child whose regular place of care was closed due to coronavirus. The HEROES Act expands these provisions so that more workers have access to the job protected, paid leave they need to keep themselves and their loved ones healthy.

Unfortunately, the HEROES Act did not include any additional funding for international human aid, including important global nutrition programs to support moms and babies in the 1,000-day window. Good nutrition is crucial for the development of a healthy immune system and interrupting important global nutrition programming risks extending this pandemic and deepening its effects, especially among women and children.

The Senate now must act on its next stimulus package. Senate leadership have not yet indicated when it will consider more legislation, or what it will include. 1,000 Days urges the Senate swiftly pass legislation that builds on the core provisions of the HEROES Act that support the first 1,000 days, and strengthens it to ensure that families in the United States and around the world have the resources and support they need to stay nourished, healthy and safe during this pandemic.

Slow progress on FY21 Appropriations

Key appropriators in the House and Senate have indicated that they intend to finish marking up appropriations bills before the August recess. In collaboration with many partner organizations, 1,000 Days has urged increased investment in the CDC’s Hospitals Promoting Breastfeeding initiative and in nutrition as a part of USAID’s Global Health Programs, two programs with longstanding, bipartisan support. We expect hearings and negotiations to begin in earnest this month and will continue to work with champions in Congress to ensure these vital programs receive the funding they need.

Growing calls for Congress to address racial injustice

Finally, in the wake of another tragic death of an unarmed black man at the hands of the police, we join the calls for Congress to take up meaningful legislation related to racial inequality and health disparities in the coming days. Sadly, for too many women, the key obstacles to a healthy first 1,000-days are racism and systemic oppression. Women of color, especially Black and Native American women, are disproportionately likely to experience severe complications during pregnancy and postpartum in comparison to their white counterparts, and more likely to die as a result of those complications, regardless of socioeconomic or educational status. Children of color, especially Black children, are more likely to live in food insecure households and less likely to have access to the quality nutrition they need for healthy development. This is unacceptable. 1,000 Days will continue to work with partners and lawmakers to lift up the health consequences of systemic racism and inequality and to work for a healthy, equitable, and more just future for all.

Please find our organizational statement in support of the Black Lives Matter movement here.