Padilla, Harder Introduce Legislation to Improve Access to Mental Health Care for Farm Workers – Senator Alex Padilla

Padilla, Harder Introduce Legislation to Improve Access to Mental Health Care for Farm Workers - Senator Alex Padilla

WASHINGTON DC — U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Representative Josh Harder (D-Calif.-09) today introduced bicameral legislation to improve peer-to-peer mental health services to address the health needs of farmers.

The Agricultural Workers Mental Health Support Act would require the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN), which provides mental health support to farmworkers, to specifically include farmworkers as an eligible population. The bill would also authorize peer-to-peer mental health promotion grants to help provide farmers with cost-effective and culturally competent health care. The legislation aims to help address the gap in mental health care services for our nation’s agricultural workers, who are disproportionately affected by mental health concerns and often do not have access to adequate health care.

“Our farmers feed our nation, but due to long, physically demanding work hours, little or no benefits and low wages, they face higher rates of mental health problems,” Senator Padilla said. “Given their mental health needs, it is essential that farm workers have clear access to the farm and ranch stress support network. I am proud to lead this bicameral effort to ensure that some of our nation’s most essential workers get the health care they need.”

“The Central Valley is the breadbasket of the world – 25% of our country’s food is grown here,” Deputy Harder said. “None of this would be possible without our hardworking farmers. It is vital that they have the health care, including mental health care, that they need to keep our country fed and healthy. This bill is a big step towards making that a reality.”

“The National Rural Health Association (NRHA) thanks Senator Padilla and Representative Harder for their efforts to expand access to behavioral health to all members of the agricultural community. The Farm Worker Mental Health Promotion Act will ensure that farmers can benefit from behavioral health resources and support provided through the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network. We appreciate the commitment of lawmakers to protect these invaluable members of rural communities.” said Alan Morgan, CEO, National Rural Health Association.

Farmworkers face significant barriers to care, including a lack of culturally competent providers and low health literacy, and challenges associated with accessing health care in rural areas. According to the University of California, Merced, 19% of farm workers reported symptoms of anxiety and 14% reported feeling depressed.

FRSAN was authorized in 2008 in response to the high suicide rate among ranchers and farmers. The Agricultural Workers Mental Health Support Act specifically, it would require FRSAN to initiate, expand, or maintain peer-to-peer mental health services to help address the unique mental health issues of agricultural workers.

Senator Padilla is committed to ensuring that farmers have the protections they deserve. Padilla recently introduced Farmworker Fairness Act, legislation that updates the nation’s labor laws to ensure that farmers receive fairer wages and compensation. He also recently led 112 members of Congress to urge the Biden administration to implement the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) federal heat standard as quickly as possible. The letter encouraged OSHA to model its standards after those set forth in Asunción Valdivia Heat, Disease, Injury and Mortality Prevention Act, which he introduced in July to protect the safety and health of employees, including agricultural workers, who are exposed to dangerous temperature conditions at the workplace. He also introduced a pair of bills to equip the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to better work with farmworkers and meet their needs.

The bill is endorsed by the National Rural Health Association and the National Center for Farmworker Health.

Senator Padilla has also been a strong advocate for expanding access to mental health care, especially for underserved communities. He recently announced the upcoming launch of the Senate Mental Health Caucus during a roundtable discussion at the LGBT Center in San Francisco, where he listened to the mental health concerns of LGBTQ+ youth and the community. Padilla also introduced earlier Comprehensive Mental Health in Schools Act address an unprecedented youth mental health crisis in primary and secondary schools that has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

A one-page account is available here.

The full text of the bill is available here.


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