After a contentious election season, U.S. Representative Lauren A. Underwood, RN, (D-IL) returned to Capitol Hill as a new subcommittee chair and the same drive to push forward on healthcare issues, most recently with an open letter to President Joe Biden.

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic is influencing much of the congressional agenda, and Underwood prioritized it as well, calling for increased funding for state and local health departments to:

  • Strengthen their immunization infrastructure.
  • Increase the ability to follow up with undervaccinated children in schools.
  • Enhance data collection and reporting systems and processes.

“My bicameral Community Immunity During COVID-19 Act would provide such emergency funding,” Underwood said.

Underwood also promoted sustained investments in public health departments so the nation will be better prepared for future health crises and for support of her Health Force legislation, which would “recruit, train, and employ hundreds of thousands of Americans to build public health capacity and aid in vaccine distribution in communities.”

“I encourage you to include in your budget the establishment of a mandatory funding mechanism to reliably and robustly invest in our nation’s public health departments every year,” Underwood said.

Focusing on the growing demands for patients and providers, Underwood included a $1 billion investment in nursing education programs to grow and diversify the nursing workforce and increased access to the Affordable Care Act to eliminate financial barriers for patients. 

She closed her letter by highlighting the nation’s health crisis for Black mothers.

“The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate of any high-income country and the only rate that is rising,” Underwood said. “The pregnancy-related mortality rate for Black women in the United States is three to four times higher than the rate for White women.”

To address the disparity, Underwood’s Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act would:

  • Invest in community-based organizations and policies to grow and diversify the perinatal workforce.
  • Expand access to maternal mental healthcare treatments and support.
  • Improve data collection.

Underwood also suggested increasing postpartum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to one year.

“I urge you to include these policies in your budget and, as a new member of the House Committee on Appropriations, I look forward to working with you to advance these priorities during the upcoming fiscal year and beyond, Underwood wrote.As you have said, there is nothing the United States cannot accomplish if we do it together. 

One of only three nurses in the U.S. Congress, Underwood is a legislative champion for nurses, patients, and innovative ways to deliver access to health care for more Americans. Local advocacy is just as important. ONS is dedicated to supporting nurses in the pursuit of advocacy for themselves, their patients, and their institutions. Get involved in ONS advocacy efforts to start making your mark on health policy.