Washington (May 25, 2023) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Representatives Summer Lee (PA-12), Barbara Lee (CA-12), and Ro Khanna (CA-17) today led their colleagues in announcing the introduction of the Hazard Pay for Health Care Heroes Act. The legislation would empower the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to issue grants related to a hazard pay of up to $13 per hour, or $25,000 per year, and implement additional safety measures, such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and alternative transit, for essential workers in health care and supporting services who are providing patients with immediate or undisrupted medical assistance during emergencies and extreme weather disasters.
Last winter, Massachusetts medical facilities were struck by a harsh cold front, which led to the flooding of Boston Medical Center and Tufts Medical Center’s emergency rooms due to burst pipes. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health reports that Boston is one the most vulnerable coastal cities for disruptions to health care in the event of a hurricane. A new study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology finds that a concurrent heat wave and blackout in Phoenix, Arizona would cause severe heat-related illness and put nearly half of the city’s residents in need of emergency care. Understanding the need to uphold continuity of care and protect patients in the event of extreme weather disasters made worse by climate change, the Hazard Pay for Health Care Heroes Act will provide federal funding to empower health care systems and keep workers safe during emergencies.
“Health care workers are on the frontlines of our nation’s dual public health and climate crises, treating and tending to communities hit hardest by extreme weather and environmental disasters,” said Senator Markey. “These heroes deserve more than our gratitude—they deserve better pay and stronger protections. I am proud to join Representatives Summer Lee, Barbara Lee, and Ro Khanna in introducing the Hazard Pay for Health Care Heroes Act to ensure health care workers who are responding to these emergencies are provided hazard pay and given the safety tools necessary to protect patients and themselves.”
“I’ve been fighting for fair wages and safe conditions for our hospital workers from my time as an organizer and State Legislator all the way to Congress. Every time disaster strikes, our health care workers show up for us–even when it means putting their own lives at risk,” said Representative Summer Lee. “It’s time we show up for them with pay and protection, not just bells and whistles. With public health and environmental crises from pandemics and train derailments to climate driven disasters becoming more frequent and more dangerous, we need bold action starting with the Hazard Pay for Health Care Workers Act to protect our health care workers, patients, and communities they care for by providing the hazard pay and safety tools they need to continue to keep our loved ones safe during emergencies.”
“Our frontline health care workers deserve financial security and safe working conditions - especially when addressing pandemics, natural disasters, and extreme weather,” said Representative Barbara Lee. “Congress can and should do more to invest in these heroes by providing them with better pay and stronger protective equipment. The Hazard Pay for Health Care Heroes Act does exactly that by providing hazard pay to frontline health care workers so they can continue courageously serving patients while still protecting themselves. I’m proud to join Representative Lee and Senator Markey in this effort.”
“Every day, millions of healthcare workers risk their own safety to care for people in times of crisis. As we navigate unprecedented public health crises and increasingly extreme weather events, it’s critical to make sure that our healthcare workers are being properly cared for too,” said Representative Khanna. “I’m proud to lead the Hazard Pay for Health Care Heroes Act with Senator Ed Makey, Representative Summer Lee and Representative Barbara Lee for them. Because they deserve fair compensation, increased safety measures, and recognition for all that they do.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representatives Cori Bush (MO-01), Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (NY-14), Rashida Tlaib (MI-12), Jamaal Bowman (NY-16), Delia Ramirez (IL-03), Ilhan Omar (MN-05), Gwen Moore (WI-04), Lisa Blunt Rochester (DE), Shontel Brown (OH-11), Andre Carson (IN-07), John Carter (TX-31), Greg Casar (TX-35), Jim Clyburn (SC-06), Jonathan Jackson (IL-01), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Hank Johnson (GA-04), Jennifer McClellan (VA-04), Kweisi Mfume (MD-07), Illhan Omar (MN-05), Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Marilyn Strickland (WA-10), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), and Nikema Williams (GA-05) are cosponsors.
Specifically, the Hazard Pay for Health Care Heroes Act would provide funding to:
The legislation is endorsed by the American Federation of Teachers, American College of Nurse Midwives, National Hispanic Medical Association, Massachusetts Nurses Association, Climate and Community Project, Transhealth, Family Health Center of Worcester, and the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center.
“This bill ensures essential healthcare workers are supported during times of disaster. These selfless heroes are the lifeline of our society, working tirelessly on the frontline, oftentimes putting their own health and wellbeing at risk. This is a significant step forward in recognizing the invaluable contribution they make to our nation. This will help bolster their resilience and fortify our healthcare system in the face of future challenges. It’s an essential investment, not just in our workforce, but in the health of our nation,” said Dallas Ducar, CEO of Transhealth.
“Our essential healthcare workers react to crises when we are called upon - the recent COVID-19 pandemic is proof. Our workers put ourselves on the line and respond to emergencies. That is who our workers are and what we do,”said Matt Yarnell, President of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania. “But we honor and thank Congressperson Lee and Senator Markey for recognizing that our essential workers also need support, hazard pay, proper protection equipment and PPE when new crises show up. The next public health and climate related emergency will certainly show up and we need to be prepared and have our workforce ready to respond with all the resources and leadership we need.”
“The COVID pandemic left our healthcare workforce burnt out and traumatized from working on the front lines of a global health crisis without proper safety equipment and mental health resources. The nation called them heroes and clapped for them each night, but nurses, respiratory techs and other professionals still faced backbreaking hours, low wages, and exposure to unsafe working conditions – all of which will threaten their wellbeing again the next time we face a health emergency. Senator Markey's Hazard Pay for Health Care Heroes Act would help ensure we protect this critical workforce by providing the funding now to make sure we’re prepared for the next crisis. And as our healthcare professionals face ongoing challenges – including unsafe patient levels, moral injury and violence on the job, it’s more important than ever to let these heroes – and those thinking about entering the field – know that we believe they’re worth more than words of praise. As the fastest growing healthcare union in the country, the AFT stands fully behind this legislation,” said Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers.
For years, Senator Markey has championed efforts to advance climate and health justice to protect communities and their public health. In May, Senator Markey and Representative Lauren Underwood (IL-14) announced legislation, the Protecting Moms and Babies Against Climate Change Act, to address climate change risks to pregnant and postpartum people and their infants. During that same month, Senator Markey reintroduced the Community Mental Wellness and Resilience Act with Representatives Paul Tonko (NY-20) and Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01), bipartisan and bicameral legislation that would establish a first-of-its-kind $36 million pilot grant program through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to provide funding to local community-based mental wellness and resilience programs. Last month, Senator Markey and Representative Khanna introduced the Green New Deal for Health to enable the U.S. health care system to respond to climate change by improving sustainability and supporting patients, providers and communities.