TRACE Act: Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush’s COVID-19 Bill, HR 6666, Sparks Backlash

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Wikimedia Commons Bobby Rush

Illinois U.S. Rep. Bobby L. Rush’s $100 billion grant program proposed in the H.R. 6666 TRACE bill has sparked a backlash from those who believe it would be unconstitutional.

Rush introduced the H.R. 6666 TRACE Act (formally known as the COVID-19 Testing, Reaching and Contracting Everyone Act) on May 1. The Act would create grants for health care, school-based, academic and nonprofit entities to run mobile testing sites and hire staff to test.

However, the Action Network started a petition called “Stop the Unconstitutional, Illegal TRACE Act (HR 6666)” to prevent the bill from being adopted by Congress. The petition, which has since become unavailable, read in part: “It is a stunningly illegal power grab beyond what the Constitution offers the Congress, and an outright assault on the people to be deplored by all. And, it is also a massive waste of $100 billion – allocated for 2020 alone.”

At the time of writing, the petition had gathered 3,898 signatures of the 6,400 required.

Here’s what you need to know:

The Bill Is Still in the Committee Phase

On his website, Rush said, “Until we have a vaccine to defeat this dreaded disease, contact tracing in order to understand the full breadth and depth of the spread of this virus is the only way we will be able to get out from under this.”

His words echo those of Dr. Crystal Watson, lead author of a recent report from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, which says that contract tracing is essential to reopening the country:

In order to save lives, reduce COVID-19’s burden on our healthcare system, ease strict social distancing measures, and confidently make progress toward returning to work and school, the United States must implement a robust and comprehensive system to identify all COVID-19 cases and trace all close contacts of each identified case.

Rush’s bill has arrived at a time when Democrats, according to CNBC, have been looking to pass another coronavirus relief bill that could cost roughly $2 trillion by next week. Such a bill would include funds for testing and contract tracing around the country.

The bill says, in part:

The Secretary of Health and Human Services, acting through the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, may award grants to eligible entities to conduct diagnostic testing for COVID–19, to trace and monitor the contacts of infected individuals, and to support the quarantine of such contacts, through—

(1) mobile health units; and

(2) as necessary, testing individuals and providing individuals with services related to testing and quarantine at their residences.

(b) Permissible uses of funds.—A grant recipient under this section may use the grant funds, in support of the activities described in subsection (a)—

(1) to hire, train, compensate, and pay the expenses of individuals; and

(2) to purchase personal protective equipment and other supplies.

(c) Priority.—In selecting grant recipients under this section, the Secretary shall give priority to—

(1) applicants proposing to conduct activities funded under this section in hot spots and medically underserved communities; and

(2) applicants that agree, in hiring individuals to carry out activities funded under this section, to hire residents of the area or community where the activities will primarily occur, with higher priority among applicants described in this paragraph given based on the percentage of individuals to be hired from such area or community.

Read the full bill here.

Co-sponsors of Rush’s bill include Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Gwen Moore of Wisconsin, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and Steve Cohen of Tennessee. Only one Republican, Rep. Jefferson Van Drew of New Jersey, signed on as a co-sponsor.

The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Backlash To the Bill Has Been Strong

In addition to the petition, Rush has received a fair amount of social media backlash, mainly out of concern for privacy.

Reactions on Twitter have ranged from Third Reich and Hitler comparisons to people suggesting Rush wants to hire spies, make lepers of those who are identified as sick and waste money.

Senate Republicans have been working on their own bill focused on contract tracing privacy to “provide all Americans with more transparency, choice, and control over the collection and use of their personal health, geolocation, and proximity data (and) hold businesses accountable to consumers if they use personal data to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.”

A draft of the bill, called the COVID-19 Consumer Data Protection Act, also encourages more transparency about what people’s information is being used for among phone companies like Apple and data collectors like Google.

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