March 11, 2020

Udall Leads Bipartisan, Bicameral Group of Border Lawmakers to Introduce Bill to Strengthen Infectious Disease Monitoring and Support Border Community Health Initiatives

As global health risks from the novel coronavirus grow, bill would bolster infectious disease detection and investigation capabilities and update and strengthen the United States-Mexico Border Health Commission and Canada-United States Pan Border Public Health Preparedness Council

WASHINGTON—Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.)Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.)John Cornyn (R-Texas), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) introduced the bipartisan Border Health Security Act of 2020, a new bill to strengthen multi-national cooperation to screen for infectious diseases and support vital public health initiatives in border communities that face unique cross-border challenges.

U.S. Representative Xochitl Torres Small (D-N.M.) has introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives. 

The United States-Mexico Border Health Commission has worked over the past two decades to address major bi-national health issues that strain the public health systems along the border, including infectious diseases. This bill provides important recourses for the Commission and the Canada-United States Pan Border Public Health Preparedness Council to work with organizations along our borders to strengthen public health infrastructure. New funding under the bill will also invest in improvements for defense against bioterrorism, to warn of communicable disease outbreaks, and to address the many health disparities experienced in the Southern border region.

“People in New Mexico’s border communities deserve to feel confident that public health experts on the ground have the necessary resources to protect them and their families from public health risks and dangerous diseases. Especially at a time that communities across America are bracing for novel coronavirus, the availability of quality public health services and infrastructure should not be determined by your zip code,”Udall said. “We know that this epidemic threat will not be the last, and by catching warning signs of diseases early, we can better protect not only border communities but our nation as a whole. This bill builds on existing partnerships with Mexico and Canada to address the unique health challenges in border areas, we can help ensure that residents have access to high-quality public health services.”

“It is imperative that we address any vulnerabilities along the southern border and at U.S. ports of entry to protect Arizonans and our border communities from coronavirus,” McSally said. “This legislation provides critical funding for prevention and public health efforts along the southern border while strengthening our cooperation with Mexico and Canada to screen for infectious diseases.”

“The ongoing public health crisis presented by the novel coronavirus outbreak has brought into stark relief the urgent need for us to strengthen our infectious disease preparedness,” Heinrich said. “We need to be prepared to work together, across borders, to use the best available science-based and public health resources to keep our communities safe. I am proud to support this bipartisan legislation that will reinforce cooperation and coordination between the United States and our neighboring nations and ensure our public health infrastructure can adequately respond to unique challenges in our border communities.”

“In Texas, we know what happens at our border – both good and bad – affects the entire country,” said Cornyn. “Improving public health initiatives along our border will benefit not just those that live and work in South Texas, but all Americans who benefit from trade and travel across our southern border.” 

“Our international borders present unique public health challenges and our public health officials must have the support and resources to keep New York’s border communities safe,” said Gillibrand. “The challenge of combating coronavirus has demonstrated how important proper preparation and coordination is to containing infectious disease outbreaks. I am proud to support this bill, which will ensure that every family in every community has high-quality public health services.”

“Cross-border information sharing and disease monitoring protects the health and safety of all Americans,”said Sinema. “Our bipartisan bill funds health preparedness in Arizona’s border communities ensuring we’re equipped to respond to coronavirus and other public health emergencies.”

“This bill will provide necessary funding for public health activities along the border, which widely impact population health, health preparedness, and improving health disparities,” said Secretary of the New Mexico Department of Health Kathyleen Kunkel.

The Border Health Security Act of 2020 will strengthen public health and national security by:

- Authorizing $10.5 million per year for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in consultation with the Commission and Council to issue grants for States, Tribes and Tribal organizations, local governments, hospitals and nonprofit health organizations and others

- Addressing the unique public health challenges along international borders and strengthening infectious disease preparedness along the nation's northern and southern borders, including:

- Updating and strengthening the roles of the United States-Mexico Border Health Commission and U.S. Canada Pan Border Health Council in recommending and implementing initiatives to solve border health issues.

- Designating a border health grant program to prioritize recommendations outlined by the Commission and Council to improve the health of residents along the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borders. Grant funding would be used to address issues including infectious disease testing, monitoring, and surveillance; public health and public health infrastructure; health conditions with high prevalence; medical and health services research; health care infrastructure; health disparities; environmental health; epidemiology and health research; and workforce training and development.

- Allowing grants to be used for Early Warning Infectious Disease Surveillance (EWIDS) and Border Infectious Disease Surveillance (BIDS) projects to develop and implement infectious disease surveillance plans, public health emergency plans, readiness assessments and preparedness plans, and alert networks; improve infrastructure and laboratories; support workforce training; and improve health information technology.

The full text of the bill is available HERE and a one-page summary of the bill is available HERE.

The legislation is supported by the New Mexico Department of Health, the National Rural Health Association (NRHA), the Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC), New York Immigration Coalition, OneAmerica, CAFeNM, and the American Public Health Association (APHA).