WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-MN) and Mike Rounds (R-SD) led a bipartisan group of senators in reintroducing legislation to expand telemental health services in rural areas.

“Now—especially as our nation continues dealing with a pandemic—we need to help rural communities overcome their unique obstacles in providing mental health,” said Smith. “Our bipartisan bill will help health providers in rural areas expand tele-mental health care services for farmers, ranchers and foresters, and many others in local communities who are experiencing stress and burnout caused by the pandemic, difficult weather, low commodity prices and more. It’s important that they get the services they need during this uncertain time.”

“Those living in rural areas may live far away from a mental health facility, making in-person visits difficult for those seeking care,” said Rounds. “Utilizing telemental health capabilities will allow South Dakotans in rural areas to receive quality care from the comfort of their homes. Not only does this save time and resources, it provides an important mental health service during a difficult period for our farmers and ranchers, who for years have suffered economically due to challenging weather, trade disputes and price disparities.”

The Home-Based Telemental Health Care Act would establish a grant program for health providers to expand telemental health services for rural populations. Specifically, the legislation would target those working in the farming, forestry and fishing industries. Additional cosponsors include Senators John Thune (R-SD) and John Boozman (R-AR).

This legislation would direct the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in coordination with the Rural Health Liaison of the Department of Agriculture, to support telemental health services through grant funding. The bill would authorize up to $10 million each fiscal year through 2026 using existing funds.