U.S. Senators Smith, Murkowski, Hassan Reintroduce Bipartisan Bill to Expand Mental Health Care Workforce

WASHINGTON [2.23.23] – Today, U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-MN), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) reintroduced their bipartisan legislation to strengthen the mental health workforce in the face of shortages. The Mental Health Professionals Workforce Shortage Loan Repayment Act would repay up to $250,000 in eligible student loan repayment for mental health professionals who work in mental health professional shortage areas.

Sen. Smith has shared her own mental health journey from the Senate floor—and again in an op-ed last week in the wake of news that Senator John Fetterman (D-PA) was seeking treatment for depression —in hopes of breaking the stigma around mental health and working to expand access so Americans get the help they need.

“I’ve shared my own story with depression because I want anyone suffering from a mental health issue to know they are not alone. We can all help break the stigma around talking about this, but de-stigmatizing and de-mystifying mental illness is just the beginning. We have to make sure mental health resources are available to everyone,” said Sen. Smith, a member of the Senate Health Committee. “We need to pass our bipartisan bill to help close the holes in the net we build to catch people when they fall and need help.”

“Alaska continues to be disproportionally impacted by mental health and substance use disorders; and across the nation, mental and behavioral health workforce shortages are critically affecting access to care. This is especially true in rural communities,” said Sen. Murkowski. “Building on my years-long effort to bolster Alaska’s healthcare workforce, I’m proud to join Senators Smith and Hassan in introducing legislation to help expand the mental health workforce. By providing loan repayment for those who aspire to help fill the gaps in rural and underserved areas, we can increase access to mental health services in Alaska, and ensure a healthier future for all Alaskans.”

“Too often, people struggling with substance abuse and mental health challenges are unable to get the care that they need because of a shortage of health care providers. This legislation addresses this challenge head on by incentivizing more providers to work in communities across our state,” said Sen. Hassan. “By building on the bipartisan legislation that we previously passed into law and doubling the program’s funding, we can make an even greater difference in tackling the substance misuse crisis and getting people the mental health care that they need.”

Right now, nearly 160 million Americans live in areas with a shortage of mental health professionals. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) estimates that by 2025, there will be a shortage of over 250,000 mental health professionals, including psychiatrists, mental health and substance abuse social workers, clinical and school psychologists, and school counselors.

Sens. Smith, Murkowski and Hassan recognize that this shortage is not felt equally across the country—rural communities are much more likely to have a shortage of mental health professionals than urban areas. People of color are also more likely to live in areas with mental health professional shortages and to report challenges accessing culturally competent care. Sens. Smith and Murkowski’s bipartisan bill aims to address this by expanding the mental health care workforce in areas with the greatest need.

The Mental Health Professionals Workforce Shortage Loan Repayment Act would:

• Repay up to $250,000 in eligible student loan repayment for mental health professionals who work in mental health professional shortage areas; and

• Repay one-sixth of the individual’s eligible loans for each year of service.

This legislation is supported by: several members of the Mental Health Liaison Group, including the American Psychological Association; National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI); Wounded Warrior Project; American Association for Psychoanalysis in Clinical Social Work; American Foundation for Suicide Prevention; Association for Behavioral Health and Wellness; Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance; RI International; No Health Without Mental Health; The Kennedy Forum; International OCD Foundation; American Mental Health Counselors Association; American Psychiatric Association.

You can access a list of supporting organizations and a summary of the bill here.