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April 28, 2022

Pressley, Titus, Meijer Applaud Committee Passage of Bill to Expand Support for Survivors of Natural Disasters, Terrorist Attacks, Other Tragedies

Pressley, Constituent Survivor Urged Passage in Op-Ed Published on 9th Anniversary of Boston Marathon Bombing

Bill Text | Bill Summary

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), along with Representatives Dina Titus (NV-01), and Peter Meijer (MI-03), applauded the unanimous committee passage of the Post Disaster Mental Health Response Act, their legislation to expand mental health supports for survivors of natural disasters and terrorist attacks that do not receive a “Major Disaster” declaration. 

The bicameral legislation was passed today out of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and now heads for consideration by the full House. 

“We must ensure that survivors of all tragedies—from natural disasters like hurricanes to mass violence like the Boston Marathon bombing—are able access the mental health resources they need to heal from their trauma and thrive,” said Rep. Pressley. “Our bill would help us do just that, and I am encouraged to see it pass out of committee and head towards the House floor. We’re closer than ever to getting this across the finish line and we won’t stop fighting to get this done.” 

“As Chair of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management, overseeing FEMA programs is a vital part of my work. Today that work resulted in committee passage of the Post Disaster Mental Health Response Act, a bill brought by Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley that will make it possible for states, tribes, and territories to request FEMA’s crisis counseling assistance to benefit the survivors of emergencies. Currently the Stafford Act only authorizes FEMA to provide crisis counseling assistance to survivors of Major Disaster Declarations. However, in the last decade alone there have been more than 4,000 Emergency Declarations in 37 states for incidents including hurricanes, earthquakes, and terrorist attacks. We must ensure that survivors and communities of disasters that receive Emergency Declarations receive critical mental health support,” said Chair Titus (NV-01). 

“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. The changes to the FEMA’s Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program (CCP) that the Post-Disaster Mental Health Response Act provides will play an important role in the full scope of disaster response, and I am encouraged by its bipartisan advancement today in the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.” 

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, 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

This legislation is endorsed by National Association of EMTs, International Association of Fire Fighters, National Association of Counties, American Psychological Association, National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors, American Mental Wellness Association, Children’s Hospital Association, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Campaign for Trauma-Informed Policy and Practice, American College of Emergency Physicians, Iowa Primary Care Association, Gundersen Health System, Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy & Action, Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly (CARIE), Inseparable, Association of Behavioral Healthcare, Center for Law and Social Policy, National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, Riverside Community Care, and Team Rubicon. 

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.