Padilla Urges HHS to Fully Implement MENA Community Inclusion Act

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senators Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), as well as Representatives Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.-06) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.-12), applauded the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) efforts to update the standards for race and ethnicity data collection and use. Additionally, they urged Secretary Xavier Becerra to fully implement their Health Equity and Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) Community Inclusion Act.

The lawmakers expressed appreciation for the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) newly revised data standards, which added a Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) category. Additionally, the standards require agencies to collect more granular data on racial and ethnic subgroups, allowing for further disaggregation of data to more intentionally and equitably address unique health care needs.

While this is an important step, MENA populations still face significant barriers to accessing care. Organizations that represent MENA communities have often been ineligible for federal programming targeted toward historically marginalized groups. To help address these ongoing disparities, the lawmakers urged HHS to add MENA to the list of “racial and ethnic minority groups” to grant MENA communities access to this programming.

“We are confident that the recent OMB directive will provide a greater body of data to identify unique health trends or potential disparities in the MENA community and other minority communities. Therefore, we urge HHS to ensure that targeted federal programs critical to improving health outcomes and general quality of life are fully available to MENA populations,” wrote the lawmakers.

“The National Network for Arab American Communities applauds Senator Padilla and his colleagues for their advocacy on behalf of the MENA community. The Biden Administration’s updates to federal data collection are an important step toward equity in federal programs for underserved communities. Race, ethnicity, language, and culture play an important role in shaping the outcomes of diverse communities, something that we must consider in a proud nation of immigrants. Ensuring that HHS fully implements these updates is especially important in the outlay of health care policy, where minority communities can experience adverse outcomes that damage their health and wellbeing. We welcome this letter and its calling on HHS to collect, report, and utilize data that accurately reflects our nation’s diversity. Adherence to these principles will result in more effective and equitable health policymaking,” said Adam Beddawi, MS, Policy Manager of the National Network for Arab American Communities.

Last year, Senator Padilla introduced the Health Equity and Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) Community Inclusion Act along with companion legislation from Tlaib and Representatives Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.-16) and Robin Kelly (D-Ill.-02) in the House of Representatives. The legislation aims to ensure that the federal government accurately recognizes the experiences and needs of members of the MENA community, including by making them eligible for targeted minority public health programs and resources.

Full text of the letter can be found here and below:

Dear Secretary Becerra,

In light of the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) newly revised “Statistical Policy Directive No. 15: Standards for Maintaining, Collecting, and Presenting Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity,” we ask that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) properly categorize “Middle Eastern or North African” (MENA) as a “racial and ethnic minority group,” in accordance with our “Health Equity and Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) Community Inclusion Act” (S. 2899, H.R. 2730).

One of the central revisions of the new OMB data standards includes adding MENA as a new minimum category, which will allow millions of people to categorize themselves in ways that better reflect their identities. Additionally, the requirement for agencies to collect more granular data on racial and ethnic subgroups will allow for further disaggregation of data to provide more accurate health situation analysis, better understanding of each population’s unique needs, improved equity monitoring, and more efficient resource targeting.

As HHS revises its Agency Action Plan to comply with OMB’s updated standards, we urge you to add MENA to the list of “racial and ethnic minority groups” in order to address existing barriers to access. Organizations that represent MENA communities have often been ineligible for federal programming targeted towards historically marginalized groups, largely due to the lack of data. For example, the Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) Grant Program, which serves to address health disparities along racial or ethnic lines, relies on HHS’ racial and ethnic health data to award grants – data that has omitted full and proper representation for MENA communities that have long been miscategorized as “white.”

We are confident that the recent OMB directive will provide a greater body of data to identify unique health trends or potential disparities in the MENA community and other minority communities. Therefore, we urge HHS to ensure that targeted federal programs critical to improving health outcomes and general quality of life are fully available to MENA populations.

We appreciate your commitment to this issue, and we look forward to working with you to ensure these standards continue to evolve to reflect the needs of all Americans.

Sincerely,

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