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February 21, 2023

Pressley, Advocates, Survivors of Marathon Bombing Celebrate Passage of Congresswoman’s Post Disaster Mental Health Response Act

Bill Expands Mental Health Support for Survivors of Natural Disasters, Terrorist Attacks, and Other Tragedies; Signed Into Law in December

Photo | Video | Bill Summary

BOSTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) visited Harvard Street Neighborhood Health for a roundtable discussion on her Post Disaster Mental Health Response Act, which was signed into law by President Biden in December. The legislation, which Rep. Pressley first introduced in October 2021, will expand mental health support for survivors of natural disasters and terrorist attackslike the Boston Marathon bombingthat are designated emergency declarations by FEMA. 

“The people closest to the pain must always be closest to the power, driving and informing our policymaking—and this bill is the perfect example of that,” said Rep. Pressley. “I am so proud to have worked with survivors and advocates like Manya Chylinski to develop the Post Disaster Mental Health Response Act, lift up their experiences, and enact meaningful policy responsive to their trauma. This bill will help set our survivors on a pathway to healing, and I look forward to seeing it implemented.”

“Working with Congresswoman Pressley and her team on this legislation has been an incredible experience. And it’s exciting to be part of this panel to discuss in depth what this new law will mean for communities and individuals who face emergencies and disasters,” said Manya Chylinski. “After my experience of feeling invisible as a survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing because of my mental health wounds, I vowed that I would help change how we deal with mental and emotional health in the aftermath of tragedies so no one else will feel like I did. This law is a big step in the right direction.”

“CREW strives to support communities by helping them prepare and respond to extreme weather. Recognizing the interconnection between natural disasters and mental health in this bill is a big step forward for the climate action movement,” said Samantha Paladini of Communities Responding to Extreme Weather. “A case study on Hurricane Katrina survivors stated that 54% developed anxiety and mood disorders, 54% of adults and 45% of children developed depression, and 1 in 6 people developed PTSD. The impact of extreme weather goes beyond the active event and this bill will allow greater access to mental health resources”.

“The ‘Post-Disaster Mental Health Response Act’ validates, and helps meet the immediate, emotional needs, of survivors of all types of natural disasters, equally and inclusively, by focusing on healing what unites us…trauma,” said Lynn Julian. “After I survived the Boston Marathon bombing, with permanent brain injury, hearing loss, neck, and back injuries, and Complex PTSD, I was unable to access, mental health support promptly, and not provided group therapy until seven months later! That is one of the reasons my PTSD became chronic and complex. This was ONLY because this terrorist attack, in my backyard, in Boston’s Back Bay, was declared an “emergency declaration,” by the President, and not a ‘major disaster.’ Ayanna Pressley’s ‘Post-Disaster Mental Health Response Act’ closed that loophole.”

“After the Boston Marathon Bombing in 2013, I spent weeks, months, then years struggling to find the proper treatment for my traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. At that time, I had no idea what a long road it would be,” said Martin MacDonnell.  “The Post Disaster Mental Health Act will enable needed funds and professional support to survivors of terrorist attacks and other unfortunate disasters.  I have deep gratitude to Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley and her staff for attention and persistence to this important bill.

“We know that 40% of Americans, likely even a higher percentage in my district, would struggle to produce $400 in an emergency. How we respond to crisis and trauma directly influences an individual’s ability to recover, heal, and meaningfully continue a healthy life, and the Post-Disaster Mental Health Response Act provides critical flexibility in the law to ensure families and communities have immediate and life-saving resources in times of crisis,” said State Senator Liz Miranda of the 2nd Suffolk District. “In Boston, in one of our worst moments when terrorism was in our community, government failed to meet the magnitude of the moment with resources and infrastructure to respond – this legislation will ensure we are prepared in times of crisis. We applaud Congresswoman Pressley for championing the passage of this legislation.”

“Congresswoman Pressley deserves a great deal of credit for championing the Post Disaster Mental Health Response Act that is long overdue.  Her relentless support of trauma-conscious policy throughout her career as a policymaker, to include the PDMHRA, is greatly appreciated by those who otherwise would not get the treatment they need from FEMA following a natural disaster deemed an Emergency Declaration,” said Charles A. Murphy, President and Chief Executive Officer, Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center. “Harvard Street was proud to host Congresswoman Pressley and be part of this important discussion.”

The Congresswoman was joined at the roundtable by survivors of the Boston Marathon attack, elected officials, public health experts, and community advocates, including Massachusetts State Senator Liz Miranda; Boston City Councilor At-Large Julia Mejía; Manya Chylinski, Boston Marathon bombing survivor; Martin MacDonnell, Boston Marathon bombing survivor; Melida Arredondo, Boston Marathon bombing survivor; Lynn Julian, Boston Marathon bombing survivor; Charley Murphy, President and Chief Executive Officer, Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center; Dr. Paige Shaw, PsyD, Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center, and Samantha Paladini, Climate Resilience Coordinator, Communities Responding to Extreme Weather (CREW).

The Post-Disaster Mental Health Response Act 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), and alongside Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Rob Portman (R-OH) in the Senate.

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.” For a detailed summary of the legislation, click here.

In a joint op-ed published in the Dorchester Reporter on the nine-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon attack, 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.

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