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76 lawmakers urge emergency funding for mental health in next coronavirus stimulus package

76 lawmakers urge emergency funding for mental health in next coronavirus stimulus package
© Greg Nash

Seventy-six lawmakers from both chambers of Congress are lobbying leadership to include funding for mental health in the next coronavirus stimulus package.

In a letter led by Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWhat do Google, banks and chicken salad have in common? Final debate: War Admiral vs. Seabiscuit Biden defends his health plan from Trump attacks MORE (D-Mass.), the lawmakers called for the next coronavirus stimulus to include at least $38.5 billion for behavioral health organizations (BHOs), which they say are at risk of being shuttered as part of the pandemic’s economic fallout. 

“Many organizations that primarily treat individuals with mental health and/or substance use disorders ... are at risk of closing their doors as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The immediate and long-term effects of this cannot be overstated as millions of Americans rely on BHOs to address their mental health and substance use disorder treatment needs,” they wrote.

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The lawmakers added that a “significant portion” of the funds should be allocated to BHOs that are “enrolled in Medicaid and provide care to underserved groups, or those who otherwise lack coverage for needed behavioral and mental health care.”

The 76 members said BHOs have not been “sufficiently included” in past economic relief packages, which combined for a total of roughly $3 trillion, and noted that mental health services will be even more important as families grapple with the hardships related to the coronavirus.

A recent poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 56 percent of U.S. adults said that worry or stress related to the coronavirus outbreak has caused them to experience at least one negative effect on their mental health. 

“The numbers of Americans struggling with mental illness will only continue to grow as families and individuals face the emotional and economic repercussions of the pandemic,” the lawmakers wrote. “This, compounded with increasing financial strain and underlying disparities in mental health care access and quality of care, could have dire consequences.” 

Congress is just beginning the process of hammering out its next coronavirus relief package, with Democrats and Republicans mired in debate over expanding funding to state and local governments and providing legal protections to businesses against lawsuits related to the coronavirus.