U.S. Senators Tina Smith & Lisa Murkowski Introduce Two Bipartisan Bills to Expand Mental Health Services

WASHINGTON, D.C. [2/2/21]—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 coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The Stopping the Mental Health Pandemic Act would authorize federal grant funding for States, Tribes, Tribal organizations, and community-based entities to address behavioral health needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) would administer these grants for training, technology upgrades, surge capacity needs, emergency crisis intervention, suicide prevention, and outreach to underserved communities. U.S. Representative Katie Porter (D-CA 45) introduced the House companion earlier this year.

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. U.S. Representative Annie Kuster (D-NH 2) introduced the House companion today. 

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

“I hold the seat that Senator Paul Wellstone once held and take his legacy of voicing the importance of mental health care very seriously. That’s why I’m glad to be leading bipartisan efforts with Senator Murkowski to expand access to mental health and substance use disorder services,” said Sen. Smith, a member of the Senate Health Committee. “During this deeply challenging time, we must ensure people get the health care they need.” 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a drastic toll on the mental health of Americans, with the CDC reporting that 40% of adults in the U.S. struggled with mental health or substance abuse during 2020. It is clear we must continue to bolster the nation’s mental health system to address existing behavioral health and substance abuse concerns that have only been exacerbated by COVID. Senator Smith and I are introducing two bills to address this issue head-on. The Stopping the Mental Health Pandemic Act provides significant grant funding to States, political subdivisions of States, Tribes, community-based entities, and primary care and behavioral health organizations to provide mental health assistance for those in need. To help counteract the unprecedented number of overdose deaths that have occurred during the pandemic, our bill the Emergency Support for Substance Use Disorders Act will provide grant funding to the same groups to combat substance misuse. This is a significant step toward increasing access to behavioral health resources at a time when Americans need them the most,” said Sen. Murkowski.

“At the Aliveness Project, we see firsthand the devastating, and life threatening, impacts COVID-19 has wrought on the mental, and chemical health of our communities,” said Matt Toburen, Executive Director of the Aliveness Project of Minnesota. “Increased substance abuse and homelessness have created a massive increase in new HIV infections this past year. We strongly support Senator Tina Smith’s leadership to address the unmet needs for mental health and chemical health treatments and supports for the most vulnerable in our society and urge quick passage of the Stopping the Mental Health Pandemic Act and the Emergency Support for Substance Use Disorders Act.”

You can access summaries of the Stopping the Mental Health Pandemic Act and the Emergency Support for Substance Use Disorders Act—as well as a list of supporting organizations—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. Additionally, 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.