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July 22, 2022

House Passes Pressley’s Post-Disaster Mental Health Response Act

Bill Expands Mental Health Support for Survivors of Natural Disasters, Terrorist Attacks, Other Tragedies

Post-Disaster Mental Health Response Act Will Now Head to Senate

Bill Text | Bill Summary | Dorchester Reporter Op-Ed

WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives has passed the Post-Disaster Mental Health Response Act, bicameral legislation led by Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) to expand mental health supports for survivors of natural disasters and terrorist attacks that do not receive a “Major Disaster” declaration. The bill was first introduced by Rep. Pressley in the House in partnership with Reps. Dina Titus (NV-01), David McKinley (WV-01) and Peter Meijer (MI-03).

“Mental health wounds don’t discriminate by the size of the tragedy, and neither should our federal response,” said Rep. Pressley. “Survivors of any natural disaster and mass violence event deserve to heal and thrive, and we must ensure that they can access these critical resources. Our Post-Disaster Mental Health Response Act would help us do just that, and I am so proud to see this bill pass the House. I’m grateful to my colleagues for their close partnership and to the advocates from my district—including survivors of the Boston Marathon attack—who have informed this legislation.”

“As Chair of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management, my work includes overseeing FEMA programs. The Post Disaster Mental Health Response Act makes it possible for states, tribes, and territories to request FEMA’s crisis counseling assistance regardless of the event’s declaration status. 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 after which thousands of victims did not have access to mental health resources because of this loophole. We must ensure that survivors and communities who experience such disasters still receive critical mental health support even though the entire incident does not meet the physical or monetary requirements for a Major Disaster Declaration,” said Chair Titus (NV-01).     

In a joint op-ed published in the Dorchester Reporter on the nine-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing, Rep. Pressley and Manya Chylinski, an advocate and board member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Massachusetts, who shared her own experience with Pressley to inform the bill, continued their calls for passage of the legislation.

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.”

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.

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 states, tribes, and territories to address the mental health impacts in the aftermath of tragedies. However, CCP is only available to states, tribes, and territories 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.

The Senate companion legislation to the Post-Disaster Mental Health Response Act was introduced in February 2022 by U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (HSGAC), and passed the House last week as part of the FY2023 National Defense Authorization Act.

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.