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March 18, 2022: New bill, same (maybe better) results: The U.S. Senate could soon be voting on a piece of legislation that incorporates language from an APTA-supported bill aimed at increasing diversity and inclusion in physical therapy and other health providers education programs.

On March 10, senators Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Richard Burr, R-N.C., unveiled a new legislative package known a known as the PREVENT Pandemics Act (S. 3799). This sweeping bill aims to modernize the country’s pandemic response, to include increasing federal and state preparedness, improving epidemiologic data collection, accelerating research and development, and improving the medical supply chain. The legislation also focuses on supporting and improving the health provider workforce and addressing health disparities. The bill has survived committee review and will now come before the U.S. Senate.

Of interest to the physical therapy community are provisions in the bill that would give the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services authority to offer grants and contracts for purposes of, among other things, "increasing educational opportunities in physical therapy, occupational therapy, respiratory therapy, audiology, and speech-language pathology professions." According to the bill, that authority could include offering scholarships or stipends to improve retention "for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds or individuals who are underrepresented in such professions."

If those programs sound familiar, it's because they mimic portions of another APTA-supported bill known as the Allied Workforce Diversity Act (S. 1679), sponsored by senators Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. The House of Representatives Energy & Commerce Committee passed a companion bill (H.R. 3320) in December.

In addition to the scholarships and stipends, the PREVENT Pandemics Act also includes APTA-supported language aimed at addressing social determinants of health. The legislation would, among other things, authorize a grant program to support projects to reduce health disparities and improve health outcomes by increasing community-based capacity to address social determinants of health.

According to David Scala, APTA congressional affairs specialist, the new bill is good news for the profession.

"The PREVENT Act has a broader scope, and its connection to the pandemic gives it momentum, both of which are big pluses for the possibility of success," Scala said. "We're pleased that the bill has made it out of committee and is ready for consideration by the full Senate, and APTA will be working for its passage."

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