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Congress Must Protect Mothers In Covid-19 Spending Bill

At a time when mothers and infants are increasingly in danger from covid-19, it is time for our government to invest in our nation’s fragile healthcare systems by providing support and relief where it's most needed - community healthcare workers.
Khadija Gurnah
Khadija Gurnah is policy director at Health Connect One.
Honduran migrant Raquel Padilla, 27, shows her four-month pregnant belly at the "FM4 Paso Libre" shelter, an organization that offers housing, food, and legal advisoring to migrants during their stay in Guadalajara, Mexico on August 10, 2018. - From the south border with Guatemala to the north border with the United States, AFP met during 24 hours migrants in pursue of their "American dream" risking their lives though Mexican territory, who share their journey stories. (Photo by ULISES RUIZ / AFP) (Photo credit should read ULISES RUIZ/AFP via Getty Images) Crédito: ULISES RUIZ/AFP via Getty Images

As COVID-19 strains our healthcare infrastructure, pregnant women are facing severe isolation endangering the lives of infants and their mothers. Black and Latino families are at the greatest risk of contracting and dying from COVID, making birthing at this time particularly stressful.

Now, more than ever, mothers need support - regardless of their immigration status.

With the President acting unilaterally and Congress deadlocked on a path forward for stimulus money to help combat the effects of Covid-19 on our country, the need for action for mothers is desperately needed. At a time when mothers and infants are increasingly in danger, it is time for our government to invest in our nation’s fragile healthcare systems by providing support and relief where it's most needed - community healthcare workers.

The public health system is a critical firewall to reduce community spread of Covid-19 and to relieve the unsustainable pressure the U.S. healthcare system is experiencing as a result of the pandemic. Community Health Workers (CHWs) - frontline public health staff at federally qualified health centers, hospitals, health departments, and community-based organizations who conduct outreach and engender trust with marginalized populations— have a particularly important role to play.

The President’s executive orders do not provide relief to Community Health Care Workers. Congress must provide the funding and support for these brave frontline workers. The challenges facing expecting mothers during this pandemic are very real.

Families are experiencing food insecurity, housing insecurity, job loss and having problems accessing formula and diapers. They are lacking or experiencing limited access to pre and postnatal care. And are ultimately afraid to seek services if they are immigrants, particularly if they are undocumented.

Maria, a HealthConnect One community healthcare worker in Indiana tells a particularly harrowing story:

“The mothers I talk to also are left confused on what to do, they do not have enough information. The news is all we have to go by, but the medical offices are limiting access to care and doing telehealth. The questions I have heard from other mothers are: what if my baby isn't ok, my baby looks sick. One undocumented mom is isolated in a room in her apartment, with her kids crying for her and she is in need of food and help with online schooling."

Lorena, another HealthConnect One Community Healthcare Worker, recounts the fear that the Public Charge Rule, a government regulation that can deny green cards to immigrants who are thought to be likely to make even occasional and minor use of public benefits like Medicaid, food stamps and housing vouchers; places on community members:

“Families I work with are in fear due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They fear leaving their homes to attend their prenatal visits, they are also worried for their nutritional intake. Many have lost their jobs, money, food and personal hygiene items are scarce. They aren't sure about public benefits, and although we continue to remind them that applying for WIC (The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) will not affect them - rumors about the public charge rule make them hesitant to apply."

There are solutions that Congress can vote on right now to provide much needed relief where it’s most needed, for example the legislation put forward by Rep. Chuy Garcia that would provide culturally and linguistically appropriate services in health care:

“This public health crisis has demonstrated that COVID-19 does not discriminate, and yet, communities of color continue dying at higher rates," Garcia stated. "If we are serious about addressing this unprecedented public health emergency, we must urgently bridge health outcome gaps for people of color and ensure that our communities have access to the affordable, quality health care they need and deserve," he added.

Make no mistake Congress has given billions of dollars to Fortune 500 companies, billionaires and multinational corporations. All we are asking for is funding to allow us to continue to help Latino mothers and infants who desperately need it during this pandemic, regardless of their immigration status. It is outrageous that in the United States of America, one or the wealthiest countries in the world, that mothers and infants should ever fear for their health care.