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Friday, September 19, 2014


WASHINGTON, DC – During a hearing today on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) addressed the growing global public health crisis from the perspective of the Rhode Island Liberian Community.  Reed has been working closely with members of Rhode Island’s Liberian community, one of the largest per capita in the United States, to urge action addressing the epidemic and providing help for those impacted, including family members of Rhode Islanders who are living in some of the hardest hit areas. 
“Ebola is a serious threat, and the United States and the international community must step up and help bring it under control,” said Reed.  “The local health care systems in Liberia and elsewhere are being overrun.  We need to act to help victims and prevent the spread of this disease.”
Just hours before the hearing began, the White House unveiled plans to ramp up its response to the crisis, and will assign 3,000 U.S. military personnel to the afflicted regions of West Africa, along with medical supplies and logistical support. 
Today’s joint hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) and the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, featured testimony by senior U.S. public health officials including Dr. Beth Bell, Director of the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health; and Dr. Robin Robinson, Director of the Biomedical Advanced Research & Development Authority and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Preparedness & Response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Senator Reed has recently worked closely with Dr. Bell, and her staff in particular, arranging for the CDC’s participation in a conference call to provide an update on the Ebola outbreak for Rhode Island’s Liberian community.
According to the Associated Press, almost 5,000 people have been infected with Ebola so far, nearly half of them in Liberia.  The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that the Ebola outbreak could exceed 20,000 cases before it is stopped, and many thousands of new cases are expected in Liberia.
“One of the reasons that this issue is so important in Rhode Island is that we have one of the largest Liberian communities, probably the largest Liberian community per capita in the United States,” said Reed, a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies.  “They are hardworking and they are terribly concerned about their families in Liberia.”
Since 1991, Liberians have relied on short-term provisions of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) from Presidents of both political parties to extend their legal right to remain in the United States.  These individuals, many of whom have been in the United States since fleeing civil wars in Liberia in the late 1980's and early 1990's, have retained a legal status that allows them to live, work, and pay taxes in the United States.
On March 15, 2013, President Obama granted Liberians in the United States an 18-month DED extension, which is set to expire at the end of September.  Last week, Reed called the idea of deporting these individuals back to their home country of Liberia, while it was grappling with an unprecedented health crisis, “inhumane,” and urged President Obama to address the situation quickly.  An influx of Liberian refugees from the U.S. would further strain country conditions and endanger additional individuals, Reed warned.
“A number of Liberians in Rhode Island and across the country are here legally on a status-deferred enforced departure. That status expires September 30th unless the President extends it, and I would hope that he would do so because to send people back to this literal danger would be inappropriate,” added Reed.
Senator Reed also took a moment during the hearing to highlight the work of two members of the Brown University faculty, Dr. Tim Flanigan and Dr. Adam Levine, who are currently on the ground “giving their skills and courageously working on behalf of the people in Liberia,” treating patients suffering from Ebola.

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