APTA wants to see to it that the physical therapy profession becomes as diverse as the society it serves. Now lawmakers are acknowledging the importance of that idea with proposed legislation that would help fund efforts to increase diversity and inclusion in physical therapy and other health providers education programs — a key element in reaching the association's goal.
Known as the Allied Health Workforce Diversity Act, companion bills introduced in both the U.S. Senate (S. 1679) and House of Representatives (H.R. 3320) would provide $8 million per year to be made available to accredited education programs in physical therapy, occupational therapy, audiology, respiratory therapy, and speech-language pathology to increase program diversity. Lead cosponsors in the House are Reps. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., and Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla.; Senate cosponsors are Lisa Murkowski, R-Ak., and Bob Casey, D-PA.
If passed into law, money would be set aside in the Health Resources and Services Administration for use by accredited PT and PTA education programs for community outreach, mentorship, scholarships, stipends, or other programs aimed at increasing the number of students from underrepresented populations, including those from racial or ethnic minority populations, with disabilities, and from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds.
Nearly identical legislation was introduced during the 116th session of Congress. It passed the House in October 2019 but stalled in the Senate before Congress adjourned at the end of last year.
As with the earlier legislation, the new version of the bill falls squarely in line with APTA's strategic plan, which identifies greater provider diversity as necessary to ensure the long-term sustainability of the physical therapy profession.
"We're extremely pleased that the Allied Health Workforce Diversity Act is back in both chambers and with bipartisan support, and we're grateful to the cosponsors for being leaders on this crucial issue," said David Scala, APTA senior congressional affairs specialist. "This legislation will help provide opportunities and support for inclusion of all individuals who want to become PTs and PTAs.”
"As the patient population for physical therapy, and society in general, expands and becomes more diverse, it's crucial that the profession includes an equally diverse range of providers," said Carmen Elliott, APTA's vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion. "This legislation is a solid step in that direction."
APTA, the American Occupational Therapy Association, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, the American Association for Respiratory Care, and the American Academy of Audiology are strong supporters of the bill. All five organizations will work collaboratively to advocate for passage. The legislation has also been endorsed by other national organizations including the American Academy of Physical Therapy and the National Association of Black Physical Therapists.
APTA staff will monitor the progress of this legislation and provide updates and opportunities to make your voice heard; you can start now by going to the APTA Action Center and urging your members of Congress to cosponsor the legislation using the provided template letter. If you want to get an even closer look at APTA's advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill and connect with other members interested in working for change, join the APTA Advocacy Network.