Reps. Tlaib, Dingell, Eshoo, & Kelly Introduce Health Equity Bill for MENA Communities

Apr 28, 2022
Justice for All

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Tuesday, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (MI-13)Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (MI-12)Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (CA-18), and Congresswoman Robin Kelly (IL-02) introduced the Health Equity and Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) Community Inclusion Act of 2022, legislation that will help ensure the experiences and needs of the MENA community are reflected in the federal government’s focus on public health. The bill introduction comes as Arab American Heritage Month wraps up. 

“There are negative impacts on delivery of services when people who are in the Middle Eastern and North African community are categorized as ‘white’ or ‘other’,” said Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib. “This includes prevention and public health research as well as the U.S. Census. With the Health Equity and MENA Community Inclusion Act, MENA residents will finally have their true identity reflected in our nation’s public health system. This is critical in providing culturally sensitive services which is key to addressing the negative public health impacts experienced by many in the MENA community caused by systemic marginalization.”

The Health Equity and Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) Community Inclusion Act would amend the Public Health Service Act of 1944 by adding ‘Middle Easterners and North Africans’ to the definition of ‘racial and ethnic minority groups,’ making MENA individuals and communities eligible for resources targeted towards historically marginalized groups for the first time. These resources and programs – which the MENA community has not been able to access because the federal government still incorrectly categorizes them as “white” – are specifically designed to address the negative public health impacts experienced by many in historically marginalized communities and are key to improving health outcomes and general quality of life. 

This bill aims to ensure that the federal government is specifically considering how the MENA health is impacted in various ways and would provide guidance to HHS to proactively incorporate recognition of “Middle Easterners and North Africans” into their implementation of extant programs that rely upon the definition of “racial and ethnic minority groups”.

The COVID-19 pandemic shone a bright light on the massive inequities in our healthcare system,” said Congresswoman Debbie Dingell. “If we want to close these gaps, we need to better understand the needs of each community across our nation. The Health Equity and MENA Community Inclusion Act takes a long-overdue step to help our federal agencies better understand the specific health needs of our Middle Eastern and North African neighbors and will help ensure that linguistic and cultural barriers do not stand in the way of access to proper care. This legislation is exactly what we need to bring us one step closer to achieving health equity for all.”

This bill will help ensure that the MENA community is accurately reflected and not glossed over. Furthermore, the bill expresses the sense of Congress that funds authorized for programs should be increased to account for the unique health needs of “Middle Easterners or North Africans” alongside those of all other racial and ethnic minority groups. This bill comes as efforts continue to add MENA as a racial ethnic group to the United States Census. Despite a non-partisan study group recommending the designation be added, the Trump Administration declined to do so for the 2020 Census. 

In the absence of federally conducted or supported research focused on the health of the MENA community, the National Network for Arab American Communities (NNAAC) conducted a review of the available literature on MENA health outcomes and found that Arab Americans have a lower life expectancy than non-Arab and non-Hispanic Whites in Michigan and that in studies done in Detroit, Arab Americans reported greater proportions of various forms of cancer. These disparities display a great need for specific services and focused research on the federal level. The full report from NNAAC can be found here

“For too long, members of the Middle Eastern and North African, or MENA, community have been underserved by the Federal statistical system, leading to the persistence of health disparities on racial and ethnic lines,” said Rima Meroueh, director for the National Network for Arab American Communities. “At the same time, MENA communities have been subject to systemic exclusion from the established pathways for community support. This exclusion is particularly significant within the Public Health Service, where Congress has authorized a variety of programs to address minority health concerns. By providing for equitable inclusion of “Middle Easterners and North Africans” within minority-serving programs, the Health Equity and MENA Community Inclusion Act of 2022 will ensure that these programs can reach the full scope of the minority health landscape. NNAAC and the communities we serve applaud Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib, Debbie Dingell, Robin Kelly, and Anna Eshoo for their leadership on issues of health equity and MENA inclusion.”

The full text of bill can be found here.

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