Kuster Introduces Legislation To Grow Mental Health Workforce
Washington, July 27, 2023
Washington, D.C. — This week, Congresswoman Annie Kuster (NH-02) and Congresswoman Grace Napolitano (CA-31) introduced the Mental Health Professionals Workforce Shortage Loan Repayment Act to build a robust mental and behavioral health workforce.
“We need to make it easier for passionate and well-trained people to join the mental health care workforce – this legislation will help us do just that,” said Kuster, founder and co-chair of the Bipartisan Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Task Force. “By easing the burden of student loan debt for qualified professionals who work in mental health care, we can expand access to life-saving treatment and strengthen our care system. This legislation is a win-win for our efforts to end the mental health crisis, and I am proud to partner with my friend and colleague Congresswoman Napolitano to get this done.”
"As we continue our fight to increase funding for mental health services and reduce the harmful stigma that too often prevents those in need from seeking help, we must also seriously address our country's dire treatment gap in mental health care," said Napolitano, founder and co-chair of the Congressional Mental Health Caucus. "The Mental Health Professionals Workforce Shortage Loan Repayment Act invests in our future leaders and targets this shortfall by extending a loan repayment program to mental health professionals who work for a period of time in a federally designated mental health professional shortage area. I thank Congresswoman Kuster for co-leading this bill, and we urge all of our colleagues to join in support to address our country’s shortage of mental health professionals and make sure that all Americans, regardless of where they live, have access to the mental health care they need."
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 57 million U.S. adults live with a mental illness. However, due to a lack of accessible care, only 47 percent of those adults with a mental illness will receive mental health treatment. Furthermore, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the proportion of pediatric emergency department visits for mental health conditions increased during the pandemic. This treatment gap often results in greater suffering, such as unemployment, homelessness, contact with the criminal or juvenile justice system, self-harm, and suicide, which is reinforced by decades of underinvestment in care.
As reported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), over 160 million Americans currently live in federally designated mental health professional shortage areas, and by 2025, there will be an estimated shortage of over 250,000 mental health professionals. The impacts of this shortage are not felt equally across the nation. Rural communities are more likely to have a shortage of mental health professionals than urban areas, and communities of color are also likely to live in shortage areas with reported challenges in accessing culturally competent care.
The legislation works to build a robust mental and behavioral health workforce by extending a loan repayment program to mental health professionals who work in a federally designated mental health professional shortage area. The program would allow for eligible student loans to be repaid for education in mental health or a related field leading to an advanced degree for any individual who serves as a mental health provider in a mental health professional shortage area for up to six years.