Most of the funds will go towards retaining and recruiting behavioral health workers, investing in suicide prevention programs, and expanding criminal justice and public safety programs.
The Pennsylvania House passed a bill on Wednesday to distribute $100 million from President Biden’s American Rescue Plan to support adult mental health services throughout the state.
House Bill 849 cleared the House by a 170-30 bipartisan vote and now moves on to the state Senate. The Associated Press reported that Gov. Josh Shaprio supports the legislation.
According to the Pennsylvania House Democrats, HB 849 provides $34 million for workforce development and retention in behavioral health, as well as training, paid internships, loan repayment and tuition assistance for aspiring mental health professionals. The bill will also allocate $31.5 million to expand criminal justice and public safety programs and grants administered by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.
The bill provides another $18 million for suicide prevention programs in the form of competitive grants from the Department of Human Services. The funding will help counties make investments in mobile crisis teams, medical mobile crisis teams, crisis walk-in centers and stabilization units.
The remainder of the funds go towards integrating behavioral health into primary care practices, developing peer-led mental health and substance use disorder services, and providing technology and training for behavioral telehealth providers.
The funding can help put a dent in Pennsylvania’s burgeoning mental health crisis. Close to 1.7 million Pennsylvanians live in a community that does not have enough mental health professionals, and according to Prevent Suicide PA, five Pennsylvanians die by suicide each day.
Daryl Miller, a Bradford County Commissioner and the president of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP), which represents the state’s 67 counties, praised the funding, but called it “a temporary fix.”
According to the CCAP, the Pennsylvania General Assembly hasn’t increased mental health funding on the county level in 12 years.
State Rep. Mike Schlossberg (D-Lehigh), the bill’s main sponsor, has always been open about his struggles with mental health, and has advocated for expanding mental health services since getting elected in 2014.
“This money has been allocated. The uses have been thoroughly vetted. It’s time to get this money out the door to serve Pennsylvanians, Scholssberg said following Wednesday’s vote. “I am grateful for the bipartisan support this legislation received and look forward to working with the Senate and Governor Josh Shapiro to get this done so we can get people the help they need.”
The funds were initially allocated last year, when the General Assembly created the Behavioral Health Commission on Adult Mental Health, a 24-member commission established to make recommendations on how the funds should be spent. The commission included legislators, law enforcement, social workers and mental health professionals.