Congress Unveils the Health Equity Access, Resources and Treatment (HEART) Package

Feb 09, 2021
The package includes nine bills that will address the racial health inequities exacerbated by the pandemic and targets relief for vulnerable and underserved communities.

Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA-29) has released a summary of his proposed $1 billion dollar COVID-19 relief package. The Health Equity Access, Resources and Treatment (HEART) Package includes nine bills, including bills Rep. Cardenas previously introduced and bills he is planning to introduce, that will address the racial health inequities exacerbated by the pandemic and targets relief for vulnerable and underserved communities.

Below is a summary of each of the bills that make up the HEART Package that Rep. Cardenas intends to introduce over the course of the next couple weeks:

Health Equity

  • Stronger Medicaid Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic Act: This bill expands the scope of emergency services available for individuals who do not meet Medicaid’s citizenship requirements, including services such as COVID-19 testing, treatments, and vaccinations.
  • Strengthening Mental Health Supports for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) Communities Act: This bill requires state plans to report information to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) related to: (1) services provided to address health inequities within BIPOC communities and outcomes experienced; (2) outreach to and the hiring of BIPOC providers from multiple disciplines of mental health services; and (3) training to providers on culturally and linguistically responsive services.
  • COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act: This bill authorizes various efforts to address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color and other vulnerable populations.
  • Task Force on Physician Shortages Act: This bill directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to create a task force to study physician shortages.

Behavioral Health

  • Strengthening Behavioral Health Supports for Schools Act: This bill authorizes funding for SAMHSA to operate a technical assistance and training center to provide schools and school systems with behavioral health support and services for students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Youth Suicide Prevention Act: This bill authorizes the Secretary of HHS to establish a grant program to promote comprehensive mental health and suicide prevention efforts in high schools. 
  • Virtual Community Support Act: This bill strengthens community-based and peer support behavioral health services by creating a new SAMHSA program to provide training and development to increase the workforce, enable providers & peers to move their services virtually and help identify and coordinate care for those who need access to multiple services.
  • Crisis Counseling Act: This bill automatically approves requests by any state, territory, and tribe for a Crisis Counseling and Training Program to assist communities in recovering from the effects of disasters through community-based outreach, psycho-educational services and other mental health assistance and training activities.


  • Expanding Access to Emergency Meals Act: This bill allows individuals participating in SNAP and other United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrition programs to also participate in feeding programs funded using FEMA Public Assistance funds.

Rep. Cardenas has been working with other Democratic caucus members, including Reps. Yvette Clarke (D-NY-9) and Raul Ruiz (D-CA-36) as well as Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM).

It is unclear whether Democratic leadership will adopt parts or all of this proposal, noting specifically that its scope is about half of the $1.9 trillion dollars package the White House and Congressional Democratic leadership are currently supporting.

President Biden, however, has made health equity a focus of his Administration, including establishing a Health Equity Taskforce to address racial and ethnic disparities in access to care. Therefore, it is possible that aspects of the HEART Package will be incorporated into the next COVID-19 relief package, especially the proposals that addresses health inequities in vulnerable communities.

If you have questions or would like to become involved in ACA’s advocacy efforts, please contact the ACA Government Affairs and Public Policy team at


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