New Mexico Delegation Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Strengthen Infectious Disease Monitoring and Support Border Community Health Initiatives

As global health risks from the novel coronavirus grow, bill led by Udall and Torres Small 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—U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representatives Xochitl Torres Small (D-N.M.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), and Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) led a group of  bipartisan border lawmakers in introducing the 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.

In the Senate, the bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

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.”

“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.”

“This bill strikes at the heart of how closely tied border communities truly are. As we face how to confront the coronavirus, working together is more important than ever,” Torres Small said. “It’s why I voted last week to pass emergency supplemental funding for coronavirus prevention, preparedness, and response efforts. But, the work doesn’t stop there. This latest bill will improve partnerships with Canada and Mexico to address our unique health challenges and help make sure we are all safe and healthy.”

“We can’t wait for an emergency to invest in our public health infrastructure. This bipartisan, bicameral legislation will provide border communities with needed resources to prevent illness and keep New Mexico families safe. It will also bolster infectious disease monitoring and support vital health initiatives that address the disparities that border communities face,” said Luján.  “I will continue to work with my colleagues to strengthen our public health infrastructure to ensure that New Mexicans receive the care they need.”

“Our border communities rely on strong public health initiatives to ensure families stay healthy. With a growing coronavirus outbreak underway, we’re working to strengthen health infrastructure and screening so communities along the border have the confidence and the resources to remain healthy and face challenges that arise from their unique location,” said Haaland.

“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).