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House passes bill to combat mental health, substance abuse crisis

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House passes bill to combat mental health, substance abuse crisis
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., argued Wednesday that her bill would cut through red tape and aid states combat mental health. Photo by Erin Schaff/UPI | License Photo

June 23 (UPI) -- The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelming passed bipartisan legislation to support communities to combat the mental health and substance abuse crisis affecting the United States.

House lawmakers passed the package, called the Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Well-Being Act, in a 402-20 vote Wednesday with all "nays" coming from Republican representatives.

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"This bill is needed today more than ever," Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., a sponsor of the legislation, said from the House floor during the debate, stating the bill "will help restore hope for millions of Americans."

He said the bill is necessary as one in five adults are fighting mental illness, suicide has became the second leading cause of death for children 10-14 years of age and that four it 10 high school students report feeling persistently sad and hopeless during the pandemic, all while the opioid crisis continues, killing some 108,000 people last year.

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"The legislation strengthens and expands more than 30 critical programs that collectively support mental healthcare and substance use disorder prevention, care, treatment and recovery support services in communities across the nation," he said.

The legislation will establish a Behavioral Health Crisis Coordinating Office within the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to provide technical assistance to improve access to crisis care.

It also reauthorizes several programs to address mental health needs, prevent suicide and support substance use disorder prevention, treatment and recovery support, as well as programs to improve the integration of paediatric primary care providers with behavioral health providers, among other measures.

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Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona said the reason he was one of 20 Republicans to vote in opposition of the bill is because it expands the federal government's role into treating mental health.

In a video statement posted to Twitter following the vote, he said the federal government has no constitutional authority to be involved in this sector, especially as it comes with a $2 billion price tag over 10 years.

"The problem is the federal government getting involved in something it has no expertise in and it's going to spend more money on administrative costs, ultimately, than providing services; that's why it need to be left at the local level," he said.

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Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., a sponsor of the bill, argued from the House floor that what the bill does is cut through red tape, boosting treatment access and ensuring communities have resources.

"The priorities in this bill are targeted to responsibly address our most urgent needs so we can build stronger families, communities and a brighter future," she said.

"The bulk of the programs in this bill are block grants that have been successful to provide our states and communities with resources and flexibilities to meet the specific and unique needs in combating mental illness and addiction while keeping the federal government out of the decision-making process for treatments and care."

House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, D-Md., argued on behalf of the bill from the floor, stating it was needed as the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the mental health and addiction challenges that that nation was already fighting.

"For those already experiencing severe depression, anxiety or even substance abuse and addition disorders, the pandemic made it harder to access mental healthcare and essential help and resources and created, of course, much greater anxiety," he said. "This bill would reauthorize key mental health and addiction programs while helping strengthen communities' crisis response."

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