Balint introduces bipartisan mental health legislation

The MEND Act to Address Mental Health Needs After Disasters 

Vermont Business Magazine Today, Rep. Becca Balint introduced the Mental Health Emergency Needs in Disasters (MEND) Act. Following the devastating 2023 flooding in Vermont and as we face a growing climate crisis, Rep. Balint is introducing federal legislation to provide communities with the mental health support they need in disaster recovery. Congresswoman Jenniffer González-Colón (PR-AL) joins Rep. Balint as a co-lead of the bill, a display of bipartisan support for robust disaster recovery.  

While there is often a focus on infrastructure repairs, it is as important to establish systems of mental health care impacted communities. Unfortunately, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has limited resources to address mental health needs following a disaster. The MEND Act builds on successful pilot programs to expand effective, tailored services for communities impacted by disasters. This bill aims to reach directly into the community to support victims, victims’ families, and the community at large.

“The recovery period following a disaster is a time of upheaval for individuals, families, and communities – taking a serious mental and physical toll on those affected. We know Vermonters are resilient, but communities need federal resources for a complete and robust recovery. This bill is about embedding in a community, getting to know the community and the families and staying for two years because the arc of recovery is long, ” Congresswoman Becca Balint said. “We must take steps to ensure mental health care and support are not forgotten in the recovery process. While we work to repair buildings, infrastructures, and roads, we have to establish systems of mental health care in impacted communities, that go alongside the actual rebuilding of brick and mortar. I’m grateful this kind of critical intervention has bipartisan support and I look forward to continuing to work toward robust mental health care access for all.”

“The road to recovery we have faced in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria extends well beyond infrastructure. That’s because the effects of a disaster are not just material. People’s everyday lives are heavily impacted, sometimes putting intense, prolonged emotional pressure on those affected,” said Congresswoman González-Colón. “For that reason, I am supporting this legislation to develop mental health resources that can be deployed as part of FEMA emergency response in support of our communities at times when citizens are the most vulnerable. Adequate attention to mental health needs is critical for a successful recovery, and in major disasters that often goes beyond what current programs contemplate.”

The MEND ACT establishes a FEMA grant program to deploy mobile mental health crisis units following a major disaster declaration. The mobile mental health units will:

  • Provide professional counseling services to victims of a major disaster
  • Be staffed by appropriately trained professionals to address impacts from major disasters in communities, and to individuals with socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds
  • Include both professional behavioral health counselors and non-clinical staff to disperse information about resources, preventive materials, and establish peer supports networks
  • Deploy to counties within the affected area, and be centrally located to the community

 

It also establishes a permanent grant program through SAMHSA that:

  • Disburses funding following a natural disaster or emergency to address the behavioral and mental health impacts on the community
  • Is flexible in nature, to allow the grant to be best-suited for the distinct needs of a geographic region and type of disaster

 

Finally, the bill authorizes FEMA to establish a research program which will specifically work to better understand the short-term and long-term effects of natural disasters on mental health, substance use disorder, and alcohol use disorder. This research will also study the cultural, racial, and socio-economical differences in impact of a disaster. 

See bill text here

Source: 5.16.2024. Washington, D.C – Rep. Becca Balint

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