Skip to Main

October 28, 2021

Pressley, Titus, Colleagues Unveil Bill to Expand Mental Health Support for Survivors of Natural Disasters, Terrorist Attacks, Other Tragedies

Bill Text | Bill Summary | Hearing Video

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) and Congresswoman Dina Titus (NV-01), along with Representatives David McKinley (WV-01) and Peter Meijer (MI-03), announced legislation to expand mental health supports for survivors of natural disasters and terrorist attacks that do not receive a “Major Disaster” declaration by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The Post-Disaster Mental Health Response Act would expand eligibility for FEMA’s Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program (CCP), which provides short-term mental health resources for survivors. Currently, support through this program is only available following “Major Disaster Declarations,” but not “Emergency Declarations.”

“Natural disasters and mass violence are disruptive and traumatic life events that can have a devastating impact on one’s mental health—but far too many people who survive these tragedies can’t access the critical mental health services offered by FEMA,” said Rep. Pressley. “Our bill would change that by helping survivors of all disasters—including Emergency Declarations—access the counseling and resources they need to recover from their trauma and begin to heal. The Boston Marathon attack, which received an Emergency Declaration in 2013, had a devastating impact on our community, resulting in PTSD for many survivors. I am proud to put forward legislation with them in mind – giving survivors supportive resources in the immediate aftermath of such catastrophes. I’m grateful to Reps. Titus, McKinley and Meijer for their partnership in this effort.”

“When disasters occur around the country, whether storms, drought, or wildfires, acts of terror like the Boston Marathon bombing, or pandemics such as COVID-19, studies have shown sharp increases in PTSD rates among both residents and first responders. This bill will expand the mental health services that are currently available only in major disaster declarations to all FEMA emergencies. Those experiencing trauma from battling disasters, fleeing their home, or just coping with enduring a severe catastrophe deserve access to proper care,” said Chair Dina Titus.

“As someone who previously worked on disaster response efforts, I am intimately aware of the multifaceted challenges that disasters of all scales and types can have on individuals and communities,” said Rep. Meijer. “We know major disasters require physical repairs, but we must also consider the mental and emotional tolls these events have and ensure all victims and survivors have access to the resources they need to cope and recover. I am glad to join this effort to make support available in the aftermath of any FEMA-declared disaster.’’

“It was a struggle to find support after the bombing—I felt left out of the response, and that my experience didn’t count because I didn’t have physical wounds,” said Manya Chylinski, survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing. “This bill is a critical step to recognizing and validating the experiences of survivors without visible injuries; and to enabling communities to meet the mental health needs of all those impacted by disaster. I am grateful for Congresswoman Pressley’s advocacy and leadership in dealing with trauma in our communities.”

In the last decade alone, there have been more than 4,000 Emergency Declarations in 37 states and 72 percent of all Congressional districts. From hurricanes and earthquakes to terrorist attacks and other mass violence, these emergencies have led to lasting trauma for individuals, families, and communities, and significant cost burdens on states and governments tasked with rebuilding from these crises.

Through the CCP, FEMA provides technical assistance and reimbursement to state and local governments to address the mental health impacts in the aftermath of tragedies. However, CCP is only available to states and localities that have received a “Major Disaster Declaration,” and is not available for disasters that receive “Emergency Declarations.”

To address this problem, the Post-Disaster Mental Health Response Act would amend the CCP so that it applies to Emergency Declarations. This legislation will ensure that disasters that don’t meet the physical or monetary requirements for a Major Disaster can still receive mental health support for impacted communities. For a detailed summary of the legislation, click here.

At a House Oversight Committee hearing earlier this month, Rep. Pressley questioned FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell about the trauma caused by natural disasters and the need to expand eligibility for the CCP. In response to her questions, Administrator Criswell acknowledged the importance of expanding the program and committed to working with the Congresswoman to ensure more impacted communities are eligible for support through the CCP. A full transcript and video of their exchange is available here.

The Post-Disaster Mental Health Response Act is endorsed by the National Association of Counties, American Psychological Association, National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors.

“Local officials and emergency responders are often the first on the scene following a disaster, coordinating clean-up, recovery and rebuilding efforts to return our residents’ lives back to normal,” said National Association of Counties Executive Director Matthew Chase. “With the severity and frequency of disasters on the rise, the Post-Disaster Mental Health Response Act would help ensure that local governments have the resources necessary to address the mental health needs of our residents and first responders. Counties thank Reps. Pressley, Titus, McKinley and Meijer for introducing this vital legislation to support local governments and first responders.”

“Decades of psychological research demonstrate the long-term negative impact disasters can have on the mental health of individuals and communities,” said Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, CEO of the American Psychological Association. “From natural events such as hurricanes or earthquakes, to human-caused incidents such as mass shootings or terrorist attacks – disasters can take an emotional toll. APA strongly supports the introduction of the bipartisan Post Disaster Mental Health Response Act, which would give states and localities more tools to coordinate mental health care after an emergency declaration through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program.”

“This seemingly small change would have a big impact by helping expand the type of services funded by the CCP to more Americans experiencing challenges during a disaster. Thank you for your leadership on this issue,” said Rob I. L. Morrison, Executive Director, National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors.

Throughout her career, Congresswoman Pressley has been a tireless advocate for trauma-conscious policymaking.  In June 2021, Rep. Pressley reintroduced the STRONG Support for Children Act, her landmark legislation that takes a holistic and community-based approach to addressing the growing crisis of childhood trauma.

In March 2021, Rep. Pressley sent a letter to President Biden calling on him to address the nation’s growing trauma crisis and laying out a series of steps the administration should take to confront the far-reaching hurt plaguing our communities and our nation.  In April, she published an op-ed where she reflected on the collective pain experienced by communities in her district over the past year.

In July 2019, Rep. Pressley worked with Chairman Cummings to convene the first-ever Congressional hearings on childhood trauma.  Watch Congresswoman Pressley’s full question line and follow-up questions here and here.

As a Boston City Councilor, she convened the Council’s first-ever listening-only session to hear directly from those impacted by the trauma of community gun violence.