U.S. Senators Tina Smith, Lisa Murkowski Continue Work to Expand Mental Health Services with New Package of Bipartisan Legislation

WASHINGTON, D.C. [06/24/20]—Today, U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced two bipartisan bills to address behavioral health needs and substance use disorders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 Behavioral Health Support Act would authorize $150 million in grants to States, Tribes, Tribal organizations and community-based organizations for training, technology upgrades, surge capacity needs, emergency crisis intervention, suicide prevention, and outreach to underserved communities.

The senators also introduced their bipartisan Emergency Support for Substance Use Disorders Act, which aims to address substance use disorders through harm reduction services. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would help administer these grants and would prioritize resources for areas with higher drug overdose death rates, telemedicine and workforce needs, prevention and recovery supports, and efforts to reduce stigma.

Both bills would prioritize awards for grantees that are culturally specific and intentional about serving populations where COVID-19 has had the most impact.

“We often talk about the shortage of mental health and substance use disorder services, and Sen. Murkowski and I are focused on tackling these problems and finding solutions,” said Sen. Smith, a member of the Senate Health Committee. “We are more than three months into this pandemic and it’s been more than two months since passage of the last bill to address the effects of COVID-19. We’ve seen how the expansion of telehealth coverage has been a lifeline for many Americans, but there’s more we can do. Our bipartisan bills are an important step to expand access to mental health and substance use disorder services.”

“Unfortunately, the isolation measures that were put in place to help stop the spread of COVID-19 have elevated rates of substance use disorders in Alaska—rates that were already concerning even before the pandemic. On top of that, we continue to hear warnings from national and global health officials that this global health crisis will soon be followed by a mental health crisis,” said Sen. Murkowski. “Many providers and health organizations, some who were already strapped for resources, are now in need of additional staff, technology, and support to help meet this growing demand. I’m proud to partner with Senator Smith on legislative efforts to ensure that Alaskan providers have the financial backing they need to continue their treatment, education, and outreach efforts during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.”

You can access bill text for the COVID-19 Behavioral Health Support Act here and bill text for the Emergency Support for Substance Use Disorders Act here. You can access a summary of the two bills here.

Sens. Smith and Murkowski have been working across the aisle to expand mental health services since Sen. Smith first came to the Senate. In fact, their Improving Access to Mental Health Services Act was the first bipartisan bill Sen. Smith introduced. President Trump signed the bipartisan measure—written by Sens. Smith and Murkowski to expand mental health services for students and communities in Minnesota and across the country—into law. That provision was part of a sweeping package that also provided $1.5 billion in funding—supported by Sen. Smith—to deal with the nation’s opioid crisis. And just last month, Sens. Smith and Murkowski introduced their Tele-Mental Health Improvement Act, which would improve access to tele-mental health during the length of the COVID-19 public health emergency.