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Rep. Cori Bush Proposes New Federal Agency To Deploy Social Workers For Crisis Response

U.S. Rep. Cori Bush introduced the People's Response Act on Monday, June 28, 2021.
Jason Rosenbaum
St. Louis Public Radio
U.S. Rep. Cori Bush introduced the People's Response Act on Monday, June 28, 2021.

Rep. Cori Bush's new bill is called the People’s Response Act. It’s a $10 billion package aimed at putting community organizations, social workers and nurses on the front lines of the nation’s mental health crisis — and scaling back the role of law enforcement.

A new bill introduced by Rep. Cori Bush on Monday would establish a new public safety agency — one that would answer to the Department of Health and Human Services, not the Department of Justice.

In introducing the People’s Response Act, the congresswoman drew on her experience as a nurse and frontline activist during the Ferguson movement.

“[In] St. Louis, we've been dealing with gun violence. Instead of having that be a carceral thing where we're bringing in law enforcement to work with that and to try to curb violence or reduce violence, we want to have doctors and nurses and social workers and therapists and counselors come in and do that work," Bush explained on Monday’s St. Louis on the Air.

The $10 billion effort would include money for a federal first responders unit that would “provide crisis assistance in lieu of federal law enforcement” by responding to emergency situations, substance use and mental health crises.

It would also include grants for community-led organizations and public safety initiatives by local governments and emergency first responders.

“This is a way to just totally redefine [and] actually lift up our social workers. We call our social workers and our nurses and doctors and all of those folks, we call them essential workers but we don't treat them like they are essential,” she said.

Bush acknowledged that, eventually, she would like to shift resources from the Justice Department and into the new agency. For now, though, these funds would come in addition to those given to traditional law enforcement.

“Once this division is moving and off the ground, and we have the data to show how well it's doing, then we're able to start to move more things out of the DOJ and put it where it belongs,” she said.

An inter-agency task force would keep the various agencies coordinating in the meantime.

“This isn’t a knock at law enforcement either,” Bush continued. “This is to say, you do you have a job. But social workers also have a job. When I think about my patients who have shown up in a clinic, suffering with a mental health crisis, they need help. They need resources, they need somebody that understands what they're going through, they need that. And they deserve that.”

Bush passes sixth piece of legislation

Last week, the House of Representatives passed Bush’s first standalone bill,H.R. 3241. It aims to improve National Park Service and related programs, including the Gateway Arch National Park grounds and the Underground Railroad.

It was the sixth piece of legislation sponsored by Bush to achieve passage in the House.

“Just the idea that we can protect the Underground Railroad, that’s important to me, we have to preserve that history,” she said. “Making sure that [St. Louis’] tourist attraction being the Arch, we need to make sure that, if that's what helps bolster our economy in St. Louis, we [need] to make sure that …. all of the codes [are in] place.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Paola Rodriguez is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.
Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Lara Hamdan joined St. Louis Public Radio as the news intern in 2017 and went on to become a producer for St. Louis on the Air before her latest role as the newsroom's Engagement Editor. A St. Louis native, Lara studied journalism and international relations at Webster University. She's fluent in English and Arabic – and in eating falafel sandwiches and veggie burgers. She enjoys discovering new people and gems in the city throughout her work at St. Louis Public Radio.
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