August 6, 2020

Whitehouse, Smith, & Murphy Introduce Bill to Address Effects of Social Inequities on Health in Communities of Color

Factors like lack of housing, hunger, unemployment, and education contribute to health outcomes

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) has teamed up with U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) to introduce legislation to study the role of social determinants in exacerbating health inequities and to make investments in reducing those disparities. The Senators note that unemployment, hunger, lack of affordable housing, and education have a significant effect on Americans’ health, especially in communities of color.

Medical treatment accounts for only 10 to 20 percent of an individual’s overall health, while other social determinants of health account for the other 80 to 90 percent, according to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The Senators’ Improving Social Determinants of Health Act of 2020 would authorize the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to begin work on improving health outcomes and reducing inequities by investing the efforts of the federal government, and of public health agencies and community organizations, to address the adverse effects of social determinants of health.

“This pandemic has placed a spotlight on the inequities that for too long have resulted in poorer health outcomes in communities of color,” said Whitehouse. “We need to get to the bottom of why this is happening and eliminate the root causes, whether that means improving schools, building affordable homes, making food assistance more readily available, or investing in economic development.”

According to Rhode Island Department of Health data, Black and Hispanic individuals make up about 58 percent of all diagnosed COVID-19 cases in Rhode Island, despite accounting for approximately 25 percent of the state’s overall population. The Improving Social Determinants of Health Act would authorize the CDC to create a program to improve health outcomes, reduce health inequities, and improve capacity of public health agencies and community organizations to address social determinants of health. The legislation would:

  • Coordinate across the CDC to ensure programs consider and incorporate social determinants of health in grants and activities.
  • Award grants to state, local, territorial, and Tribal health agencies to address social determinants of health in target communities.
  • Award grants to nonprofit organizations and institutions of higher education to conduct research on best practices for addressing the social determinants of health.
  • Collect and analyze data related to social determinant of health activities.
  • Authorize $50 million annually for program activities.

Also co-sponsoring the bill are Senators Angus King, (I-Maine), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921