Sen. Cramer, colleagues introduce legislation to expand mental health services in Rural America


U.S. Sens. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.) today led a bipartisan group of senators to introduce legislation to expand telemental health services in rural areas. The Home-Based Telemental Health Care Act of 2020 would establish a grant program for health providers to expand telemental health services for those specifically in rural populations working in farming, forestry and fishing industries. Additional cosponsors include U.S. Sens. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).

“Those living in rural areas may live far away from a mental health facility, making in-person visits difficult for those seeking care,” said Rounds. “Utilizing telemental health capabilities will allow South Dakotans in rural areas to receive quality care from the comfort of their homes. Not only does this save time and resources, it provides an important mental health service during a difficult period for our farmers and ranchers, who for years have suffered economically due to low commodity prices, trade disputes and price disparities.”

“Now—especially as our nation continues dealing with a pandemic—we need to help rural America overcome the unique obstacles that small towns and rural communities face in providing mental health,” said Sen. Smith. “Our bipartisan bill will help health providers in rural areas expand tele-mental health care services for farmers, ranchers and foresters, and many others in local communities who are experiencing stress and burnout caused by the pandemic, difficult weather, low commodity prices and more. It’s important that they get the services they need during this uncertain time.”

 This legislation would direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services, acting through the Director of the Office for the Advancement of Telehealth of the Health Resources and Services Administration, in coordination with the Rural Health Liaison of the Department of Agriculture, to award grants to entities to establish demonstration projects for the provision of tele-mental health services for rural populations, specifically those working in the farming, fishing and forestry occupations. It would authorize up to $10 million for each fiscal year through 2025, using current funds.

The Home-Based Telemental Health Care Act of 2020 is supported by the American Farm Bureau Federation.

“The recent pandemic, challenging weather, destructive pests, trade disputes, labor shortages and market volatility over the past few years have brought an unprecedented level of pressure on America’s farmers. A 2019 Farm Bureau survey shows that an overwhelming majority of farmers and farmworkers say financial issues, farm or business problems and fear of losing their farm negatively impact their mental health. Farm Bureau supports the Home-Based Telemental Health Care Act and thanks Senators Mike Rounds and Tina Smith for their leadership in addressing the topic of mental health in rural communities,” said RJ Karney, Director Congressional Relations, American Farm Bureau Federation.