Senate Must Act After House Passes $8.5 Billion for Mental Health Response | The Kennedy Forum

Senate Must Act After House Passes $8.5 Billion for Mental Health Response
October 5, 2020

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, The Kennedy Forum has called for a robust federal response to the mental health and addiction implications of isolation, job loss, grief, increased stress, and more. Tragically, only a small percentage of our nation’s enacted COVID-19 stimulus funds has gone directly to expanding mental health and addiction treatment services to meet increasing demand. Of the trillions passed in March, only $425 million was allocated for mental health.

As the consequences of the pandemic continued to grow, The Kennedy Forum led advocacy efforts in AprilMay, and June urging Congress to do much more. We were extremely happy to see that the House passed an updated Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES) Act last week that included many of our recommendations.

For background, last May, the House passed its original HEROES Act, which contained just over $3 billion in direct mental health funding. Over the summer, Senate Republicans proposed $4.5 billion in mental health funding, however this package never received a vote, and the Senate instead passed a bare-bones package that contained no mental health funding.

The House’s latest proposal includes a significant increase in funding from the previous version. Of particular note is $8.5 billion for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). This funding includes:

  • $3.5 billion for the Substance Abuse and Prevention Treatment Block Grant
  • $4 billion for the Mental Health Services Block Grant
  • $600 million for Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics
  • $50 million for suicide prevention programs
  • $100 million for Project Aware (a school-based mental health program)
  • $10 million for the National Child Traumatic Stress Network
  • $250 million for emergency grants to states

The updated HEROES Act also includes an additional 7.8 percentage-point increase to the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) for Medicaid (making a total 14 percentage-point increase given the previous increase). This increase reduces the percentage of Medicaid expenses for which states are responsible. This is critical to aiding state budgets and preventing cuts to state Medicaid programs that are a primary payor of mental health and addiction treatment services.

The bill also includes Medicaid Reentry Act provisions, which allow incarcerated individuals to be enrolled in Medicaid 30 days prior to release. This provision helps to ensure access to much-needed mental health and addiction treatment services, which can greatly affect reentry.

Finally, the bill includes an additional $200 million for the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and funds for data collection across the Department of Health and Human Services on health disparities (also included in the original HEROES Act).

The revised HEROES Act is the most significant to date to help address our country’s worsening mental health crisis:

  • Calls to the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ helpline increased 65% between March and June.  
  • From February to July, more than a quarter million people screened positive for depression and/or anxiety through Mental Health America’s screening program.
  • A June survey from the CDC showed that 41% of respondents had faced mental health challenges related to COVID-19; 31% were experiencing anxiety or depression symptoms; and as many as one in four people ages 18-24 had seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days. 
  • More than 40 states have recorded increases in opioid-related deaths since the pandemic began.

It is critical that the Senate pass the Act without delay to increase access to care and save lives!

Please contact your Senator and tell them to support the mental health provisions in the updated HEROES Act.

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