Congresswomen Schakowsky, Bush, Pressley, Jayapal Introduce the People’s Response Act to Transform Public Safety

June 28, 2021
Press Release

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswomen Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Cori Bush (MO-01), Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), and Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) introduced monumental legislation to transform our country’s approach to public safety. The People’s Response Act, co-sponsored by 13 members and endorsed by over 70 organizations, advances an inclusive, holistic, and health-centered approach to public safety by creating a public safety division within the Department of Human Health and Services — because communities and experts agree that public safety is a matter of public health. 

“I am proud to join my colleagues Congresswomen Cori Bush, Ayanna Pressley, and Pramila Jayapal in introducing this urgently needed legislation,” said Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (IL-09). “It is well past time we take a public health approach to public safety. We can no longer afford to criminalize and incarcerate those who simply need care – from addressing mental illness, drug addiction, and homelessness, the people deserve well-trained, compassionate first responders. The people deserve the People’s Response Act.”

“Public safety is a public health issue. It’s time our approach reflects that,” said Congresswoman Cori Bush. “The People’s Response Act will transform public safety into a system of care rather than criminalization, healing rather than incarceration, and prevention rather than policing. We are safer when our communities are well funded, our people are healthy and housed, and our children have nutritious meals, excellent schools, and green spaces to play in. Our communities deserve a better response to mental health and substance use crises — which is why this new Division would be tasked with creating a trauma-informed federal response unit that can be deployed to communities to support state and local governments in responding to emergency situations, substance use, and mental health crises. Our communities deserve a just response to years of disinvestment in our communities that have led to poor health outcomes and crime. We’re making it clear that justice is about investing in the resources our communities need. The People’s Response Act will create grant funding for the grassroots and community organizations that are doing the work to address housing, health care, economic injustice, and other inequities in our society. Our communities deserve a new response because the old approaches have been tried and tried again — only to continue failing our communities. The People’s Response Act creates a new agency, the Division of Community Safety, within the Department of Health and Human Services to research and fund alternatives to incarceration and policing that will save lives in our communities. Following a summer of protests to save Black lives, elected officials have a duty to respond to the demands of the people. Across the country, millions mobilized to demand that we transform our system of public safety to build a future where Black, brown, Indigenous, and marginalized communities can live full and joyous lives. The House of Representatives is the People’s House and we need the people’s response to this moment. We need the People’s Response Act.”

“For too long, our flawed approach to public safety has centered criminalization, surveillance and incarceration, rather than care, justice and healing,” said Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley. “Our bill would help change that by directing the federal government to take a health-centered approach to public safety and investing in trauma-informed, community-based responses that will truly keep people safe. I’m grateful to Congresswoman Bush and our colleagues for their partnership as we work to build a more just criminal legal system.”

The People’s Response Act would: 

  • Create a new public safety division within the Department of Health and Human Services to fund and coordinate research, technical assistance, and grant programs related to non-carceral, health-centered investments in public safety;
  • Launch a federal first responders unit that will support states and local governments with emergency health crises;
  • Research alternative approaches to public safety, including coordination of research and policies that are being implemented across HHS and other agencies to center health-based and non-carceral responses throughout the federal government;
  • Provide $7.5 billion in grant funding to state and local governments, as well as community-based organizations, to fully fund public safety and improve crisis response;
  • Establish a $2.5 billion First Responder Hiring Grant to create thousands of jobs and provide funding to state, local, and tribal government, as well as community organizations, to hire emergency first responders such as licensed social workers, mental health counselors, substance use counselors, and peer support specialists, in an effort to improve crisis response and increase non-carceral, health-based approaches to public safety. 

The full text of the legislation can be found HERE.

A one-pager of the bill can be found HERE.

A section-by-section of the legislation can be found HERE.

The resolution is co-sponsored by: Reps. Mondaire Jones (NY-17), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-00), Frederica Wilson (FL-24), Gerald Connolly (VA-11), Juan Vargas (CA-51), Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Jesus G. “Chuy” Garcia (IL-04), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Alma Adams (NC-12), and Barbara Lee (CA-13).

The resolution is endorsed by: The Drug Policy Alliance, Human Rights Campaign, American Civil Liberties Union, Civil Rights Corps, Color of Change, Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund, Human Impact Partners (HIP), Treatment Advocacy Center, Reale Justice Network, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Movement for Black Lives, Black Lives Matter, The Bail Project, Center for Popular Democracy, National Immigration Project (NIPNLG), Center for Biological Diversity, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, Project South, Center for Media Justice, Voters Organized to Educate, Parents Organized for Public Education, Community Law and Mediation Services of Northern California, Showing Up for Racial Justice, Dignity and Power Now, Zealous, Public Justice Center, Common Justice, Greenpeace US, National Black Worker Center, Freedom Agenda, Mijente, Young Women's Freedom Center, The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, Families for Justice as Healing, Project Turnaround, Aligned Law, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children/ All of Us or None, Community Justice Action Fund, End Police Violence Collective, Equal Justice Under Law, Promise of Justice Initiative, MoveOn, National Employment Project, National Center for Law and Economic Justice, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Youth Over Guns, Action Center on Race and the Economy (ACRE), and more. 

For a full list of endorsing organizations, click here.