‘Transportation policy is health policy’: How Buttigieg says COVID relief plan can bridge health divides

Local News

BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — Many Americans are already seeing the $1,400 checks promised under the federal American Rescue plan, but the $1.9 trillion package has plenty more in store.

The COVID-19 relief measure will also put money toward infrastructure, replenishing revenue that many mass transit agencies had lost over the past year. The nation’s top transportation official maintains that more navigable roads will accelerate post-pandemic recovery.

“Transportation policy is health policy,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told BRProud.com’s Harrison Golden in an interview Monday. “You should be just as able to access the benefits and needs that we all do, even if you don’t have a vehicle, through good transit options.”

“You can’t get medical treatment if you literally can’t get physically to where you need to go — because there’s not a good road to take you there or because you don’t have a car and don’t have access to transit,” he added.

Public health experts agree the pandemic has highlighted barriers to health care access. In Baton Rouge, many lower-income neighborhoods sit to the north, while the city’s two main hospital campuses — Our Lady of the Lake and Baton Rouge General — sit near wealthier communities.

Alma Stewart, a longtime nurse who founded the Louisiana Center for Health Equity, argues the disparity has hindered access to COVID-19 tests and vaccines.

“Individuals who need to get tested have to get to the testing sites,” she said. “Same for vaccination. They have to get to the sites.”

Louisiana’s congressional delegation has not welcomed the federal relief package as warmly. The state’s representatives and senators argue its price tag will balloon the size of government.

“This is a bad investment,” Rep. Garret Graves (R-Baton Rouge) said in an interview March 9. “Way too much money.”

“Calling this a coronavirus bill is like calling Harvey Weinstein a feminist,” Republican Sen. John Kennedy told a reporter the same day.

Supporters insist the plan’s finished products will win over its skeptics. Stewart’s Louisiana Center for Health Equity will host a virtual summit March 30 and 31 to discuss the long-running health care barriers.

“We are working to improve the quality of life,” said Stewart. “All of those things will help determine how healthy we are.”

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