In response to the growing mental health crisis in the United States, Representatives Paul Tonko (D-NY), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Don Bacon (R-NE), Mary Peltola (D-AK), and Kathy Castor (D-FL) introduced HR 3073 the Community Mental Wellness and Resilience Act of 2023 (CMWRA), on May 2, 2023. The bill aims to address the urgent need for mental health support by establishing a $36 million grant program through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to bolster local mental health and resilience programs.

The United States is currently facing a severe shortage of mental health professionals, particularly in rural and underserved communities. This lack of access to mental health services has created significant challenges for individuals and communities seeking mental wellness and resilience support. With mental health issues affecting millions of Americans, the need for comprehensive, community-driven programs is critical.

The bill seeks to amend the Public Health Service Act and direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services, acting through the CDC Director, to promote mental wellness, resilience, and prevention and healing of mental health, behavioral health, and psychosocial conditions. The core approach of the legislation is to foster developmentally and culturally appropriate community programs that cater to the unique needs of each locality by establishing a $36 million grant program, to provide financial support to local mental health and resilience initiatives. The goal is to set up, operate, or expand community-based mental wellness and resilience programs across the nation. These programs are expected to play a pivotal role in bridging the gap between the available mental health resources and the ever-increasing demand for services.

During a virtual briefing on July 20, 2023, health and community leaders, including APHA (American Public Health Association), gathered to discuss the bill and its potential impact. Bob Dopplet, the ITRC Coordinator, opened the meeting, followed by Congressman Paul Tonko (D-NY) providing his opening remarks. The briefing delved into the pressing need for mental health support, the specific methods proposed by the bill to address the crisis, the benefits that community-driven initiatives could bring, and the legislative specifics of the bill. Community leaders who are actively engaged in mental wellness and resilience building initiatives shared their perspectives on how the bill could significantly benefit their programs. These leaders, including Mebane Boyd from SmartStart Health and Resilient Communities Program, Tina Pearson from the New Hanover County Resilience Task Force (NC), Rebekah Turner from the Community Resilience Initiative (WA), Robin Saenger from Peave4Tarpon (FL), and Charlotte Eure from Trauma-Informed Community Networks (VA), expressed strong support for the bill.

Additionally, national organization leaders highlighted the reasons for backing the bill, further underscoring the importance of the bill. Representatives from organizations such as the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Public Health Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the Prevention Institute emphasized the significant impact that the bill’s grant program could have in advancing mental health support nationwide.

The Community Mental Wellness and Resilience Act of 2023 presents a promising and much-needed response to the mental health crisis in the United States. By providing financial support to community-led mental wellness and resilience programs, the bill has the potential to bridge the gap in mental health services and bring much-needed relief to individuals and communities in need. As HR 3073 moves forward in Congress, its passage could mark a significant step toward enhancing mental health care accessibility and fostering a stronger, more resilient nation.

By Asia Leach, Policy Intern