While the nation’s fourth coronavirus stimulus package has been in the works since May, lawmakers have yet to agree on a final piece of legislation.
Democrats are pushing for the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES Act), which would cost about $3 trillion. It would give Americans another stimulus check, provide hazard pay for essential workers and create federal eviction protections, in addition to other relief efforts.
Meanwhile, Republicans are backing the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools Act (HEALS Act), which would cost around $1 trillion. It would give Americans another stimulus check, reward people financially for going back to work and introduce safeguards for businesses to protect them from being sued over COVID-19-related issues, among other provisions.
The final legislation will likely fall somewhere in the middle of the two bills in terms of cost and priorities.
However, one detail behavioral health providers are hoping makes its way into the final draft is the inclusion of the HEALS Act’s $4.5 billion in proposed funding for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
The Mental Health Liaison Group — a national coalition of organizations representing behavioral health stakeholders — wrote to Congress to stress the importance of the funding last week.
For one, overdose rates are climbing. In May, they were up 42% compared with last year, according to data from the Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program (ODMAP) cited in the letter. Plus, one in four young adults considered suicide amid the pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
At the same time that the coronavirus is taking its toll on the nation’s behavioral health, providers are suffering financially. More than 80% of providers have been forced to cancel, reschedule or turn away patients, the Mental Health Liaison Group wrote in their letter to Congress.
Without more federal financial relief, things could get even worse.
“Nationwide field surveys demonstrate that, in the current financial environment, nearly half of organizations that provide mental health and substance use treatment services will not survive into January 2021,” the authors of the letter wrote. “Further, providers of mental health and substance use services have received less than 1% of CARES Act Public Health and Social Service Emergency Fund (PHSSEF) allocations – with vast numbers of mental health and substance use treatment providers reporting that they have received no emergency assistance whatsoever.”
The National Council for Behavioral Health was one of the organizations from the Mental Health Liaison Group to sign the letter. CEO Chuck Ingoglia called bipartisan congressional support of the SAMHSA funding proposal critical.
“The members of the Mental Health Liaison Group … urge leaders in Congress take bold, decisive action to support SAMHSA and support those who rely on the programs and services funded by … SAMHSA,” Ingoglia wrote in a statement. “As our nation copes with a wave of mental illness and substance use disorders, the question is no longer can we afford to fund behavioral health care programs and services. The question is – can we afford not to?”
Negotiations on the next stimulus package are expected to start back up in September, when Congress returns from their break.