Ahead of a likely fall surge of the pandemic, the bill could help the nation avert dangerous medical supply shortages that have continued to plague the U.S.
The House unanimously passed legislation on Sept. 21 that aims to bolster domestic production of critical medical supplies as well as improve access to the U.S. National Strategic Stockpile.
Introduced by Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), the Strengthening America’s Strategic National Stockpile Act would ensure that items in the Strategic National Stockpile are in good repair and available for use. And, critically, the bill would establish a $500 million pilot program to boost domestic production of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical equipment.
Inspired by her own desperate search for PPE for constituents at the start of the pandemic, Slotkin hopes the bill will ultimately contribute to remedying U.S. dependence on countries like China for goods essential to public health.
“During the heat of the COVID-19 crisis, when Michigan and other states called on the Strategic National Stockpile for urgently needed masks, gloves and other protective gear, what we got was nowhere close to what we needed,” Slotkin said. “After fighting to get masks from China to hospitals here in my district, I introduced this bipartisan legislation to reduce our dependence on foreign suppliers, improve our ability to protect our frontline workers, and help make more critical medical supplies here in America.”
The sweeping bipartisan support for Slotkin’s bill reflects policymakers’ realization that the global supply chain left America woefully ill-equipped to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
“One of the key lessons from the coronavirus response has been the need to break our dependence on China for production of medicines, PPE, and other critical medical supplies,” said Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.). “Today we’re taking a major step toward making sure our front-line health care providers and other essential workers have the equipment they need to keep themselves and others safe.”
The bill’s passage comes as America stands at the precipice of what could be another harrowing interval of the pandemic, as the rising specter of a “twindemic” threatens to throw the nation into chaos yet again. In the past week, 22 states have seen rises in COVID-19 cases ,with a national average of approximately 43,000 new cases per day.
“Throughout this pandemic, our frontline workers weren’t getting the PPE they needed, and states had to outbid each other for ventilators and medical equipment. We can’t be in that position again, especially as we’re entering flu season,” said Rep. Gil Cisneros (D-Calif.).
As Alliance for American Manufacturing President Scott Paul commented in his testimony before the International Trade Commission on Wednesday, increasing domestic production is a critical component to ensuring America is better prepared to address future national emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unfortunately, one of those emergencies may be rapidly upon us as the U.S. continues to struggle to provide adequate PPE and medical supplies, making legislation like Slotkin’s bill especially urgent.