A bill aiming to strengthen mental health support for students, co-sponsored by Congressman Bobby Scott, narrowly passed the House of Representatives on Thursday.
James J. Fedderman, president of the Virginia Education Association, said the legislation comes at a crucial time. The VEA is a union of more than 40,000 teachers and school support professionals.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the need for mental health care that was already in short supply, especially for our students,” Scott, a Democrat from Newport News, said in a statement.
The bill, known as the Mental Health Matters Act, would establish a grant program to help state educational agencies recruit and retain mental health providers at high-need public elementary and secondary schools.
It also would provide funding for Head Start programs to boost behavioral health services for children and staff. Head Start is a federal program that helps younger students from lower-income households succeed in school.
“We cannot protect our nation’s health or help communities recover if we do not strengthen our mental health care system,” Scott previously said.
The bill also would give the Department of Labor more authority to ensure that employer-sponsored group health plans are providing mental health or substance use disorder benefits as required by the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act.
The bill looks likely to face a battle in the Senate; it received almost no support from House Republicans.
On the House floor Thursday, Rep. Virginia Foxx said the bill was too far-reaching and would be ineffective. The North Carolina Republican blamed pandemic-related school shutdowns for the mental health crisis among youth and said legislators should focus on addressing learning loss.
“I would encourage my colleagues to work across the aisle and utilize the deliberative process to form more commonsense and targeted legislation if they actually want to address our country’s mental health situation,” she said. “(This bill) tries to do too much — and none of it well.”
Katie King, firstname.lastname@example.org