Congressional Committees Focus on Mental Health, Announce Bipartisan Efforts

Mental health was in the spotlight this month on Capitol Hill with four Congressional committees holding hearings on the subject during the first three weeks of February and some committees formally announcing plans to pursue bipartisan legislation.

As we’ve discussed on Say Ahhh!, the pandemic has taken an unprecedented toll on the mental health of Americans across the country, and children and youth in particular, with provider groups declaring a state of emergency in child and adolescent mental health in October and the Surgeon General issuing an Advisory on the youth mental health crisis in December. Congress is now indicating their interest in doing more in this space as well.

This month kicked off with the US Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee holding a hearing entitled, “Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders: Responding to the Growing Crisis.” The House Ways and Means Committee followed up a day later with a hearing on “America’s Mental Health Crisis.” The Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, held two hearings this month with a specific focus on youth mental health. The first hearing featured the US Surgeon General highlighting the Surgeon General’s Advisory and call to action. The second hearing focused on identifying and addressing barriers to care with an array of witnesses including a youth crisis support line volunteer. Finally, last week, the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee held a hearing on “Americans in Need: Responding to the National Mental Health Crisis.”

As part of its efforts, the Senate Finance Committee also announced it was “ramping up” their legislative efforts by creating bipartisan committee working groups focused on specific policy challenges including: strengthening the workforce, increasing integration, coordination and access to care, ensuring parity between behavioral and physical health care, furthering the use of telehealth, and improving access to behavioral health care for children and young people – with the goal of producing a “bipartisan bill this summer.” In a bipartisan statement from the Senate HELP Committee, which has jurisdiction over programs such as those run through SAMHSA, the Chair and Ranking Member announced they are also “working in a bipartisan way to reauthorize, improve, and expand federal mental health and substance use disorder programs.”

We will be watching closely to see how these efforts unfold. Ensuring children and youth remain top of mind and do not get left behind as part of any efforts to address the mental health crisis and ongoing unmet mental health needs will be critical. You can find our latest report on states’ plans to use American Rescue Plan Act home and community-based funds to support child and adolescent mental health here.

Anne Dwyer is an Associate Research Professor at the Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy’s Center for Children and Families.