WASHINGTON, D.C. [10/31/19]—Today, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) joined legislation that would direct the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to make sure Farm Service Agency (FSA), Risk Management Agency (RMA), and National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Employees—people who work with farmers each and every day—prioritize the need to destigmatize mental health care in rural communities, and collaborate to determine best practices to respond to, and help, farmers and producers facing mental stress.
The Seeding Rural Resilience Act—introduced by Sen. Smith’s Democratic colleague and working farmer Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.)—aims to curb the alarming rate of suicides in rural America.
“Minnesota farmers are facing unprecedented challenges. I’ve heard from many farmers who have been driven out of business, and I’ve met with young FFA members who are worried about their future. When farmers and agriculture producers face extreme financial and emotional stress, that ripples throughout the entire rural economy,” said Sen. Smith, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee who has made increasing access to mental health services a top priority since taking office. “I’ve said before that everyone can be a friend to those in need by urging them to take advantage of the resources available to them, but the resources have to be there. This bill puts the resources right where they need to be for farmers and producers so we can address the mental health crisis in rural communities.”
The Seeding Rural Resilience Act creates three initiatives aimed at curbing the growing rate of suicides in rural America:
·Implements a Farmer-Facing Employee Training Program that requires the USDA to provide voluntary stress management training to FSA, RMA, and NRCS Employees;
·Forms a partnership between the Department of Health and Human Services and USDA to increase public awareness about farm and ranch stress and destigmatize mental health care in rural communities; and
·Directs the Secretary of Agriculture to work with state, local, and nongovernmental stakeholders to collaborate and determine best practices for responding to farm and ranch mental stress.
Sen. Smith has long pushed to make access to mental health care for Minnesotans and Americans a top priority. A bipartisan measure written by Sens. Smith and Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to expand mental health services for students and communities across the country was signed into law as part of a sweeping package to deal with the nation’s opioid crisis. And last spring, Sen. Smith—a member of the Senate Health Committee—shared her own experiences with depression earlier in life, and highlighted the need to provide mental health support to people at every age across the nation in both rural and urban areas, no matter what zip code they live in. Sen. Smith also introduced her Mental Health Services for Students Act, which would help schools partner with local mental health providers to establish on-site, mental health services for students. It would also provide training for school personnel on how to recognize, assist, and refer students who may need mental health assistance. And just last week, Sen. Smith formally invited Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin to tour rural Minnesota communities and hear firsthand from farmers and producers about their concerns regarding uncertainty in the agriculture sector and the toll it’s taking on them.