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The two senators have been trying for nearly a decade to get support to spend billions of dollars on clinics specifically designed to help people struggling with mental health issues and addictions. Now their efforts are bearing fruit as the House prepares to vote on gun control legislation.

Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) say they have been urging colleagues for years to funnel federal money into medical clinics and alleviate the burden of crisis mental health care with poorly equipped police forces and emergency rooms. According to the couple, the clinics will fill a gap in medical care left by the closure of mental hospitals in the 1950s and 1960s.

The breakthrough came this year when a bipartisan group of senators discussed how to stop gun violence following the mass shooting of children and two teachers at a Texas elementary school. The group wanted to combine restrictions on the purchase of weapons with the high costs of mental health care.

“Everyone understood that the moment had come to do something truly transformative,” Stabenov told reporters this week.

Senator Roy Blunt speaks at a press conference on Capitol Hill with Senator Debbie Stabenow nearly a decade ago when they pushed for a stronger national mental health service. Joining them at the February 7, 2013 event was David O. Russell, director of My Silver Lining.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Senate must vote on legislation that would provide $3 billion for mental health and school safety programs and $2 billion for student mental health and school safety initiatives. Grants would also go to mental health training for pediatricians and mental health awareness programs.

In total, the package will allocate about $8 billion to mental health and school programs, Stabenow said. In comparison, the FY 2022 appropriation for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration was just over $6 billion.

On Tuesday, the Senate voted 64 to 34 to move forward a bipartisan gun safety bill, indicating it is likely to pass the House soon. House leaders said they would put it to a vote shortly thereafter.

Health clinics

One of the most important components of the package will be the expansion of federally certified public behavioral health clinics, currently found in a limited number of states, to a nationwide level. By law, 10 new states may participate in the program every two years, in accordance with the outline of the law provided by the group that entered into the agreement.

Blunt said he and Stabenov first developed the idea in 2013 and passed legislation in 2014 that created a demonstration project in eight states. This was followed by grants and other funding to expand it to 40 states and more than 300 clinics, according to federal figures.

Proponents say the clinics have proven effective in keeping people with addiction or mental health problems away from emergency rooms and prisons and away from treatment. The clinics have saved New York State more than $1 million in reduced hospital admissions and nearly $100,000 in reduced emergency room visits, according to the Government Accountability Office. reportsince 2021 found.

“If this bill passes, it will forever change how people access mental health and addiction treatment in their communities,” said Chuck Ingoglia, president and CEO of the National Council on Mental Wellbeing.

When the senators discussed the gun violence package, one of the first agreements was to include some of the costs of expanding mental health services, the senators said. According to them, they were ready to allocate up to $10 billion for this part of the package.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), one of the key negotiators of the gun violence bill, said mental health funding in legislation “may be the most important part of the bill.”

“Our mental health system in America is a scandal, and we see the consequences everywhere,” he said.

Cornyn said he sees evidence that mass shootings like the one at an elementary school in Uvalda in his home state a month ago were not receiving mental health care, even if they showed signs of mental illness.

Blunt, who is retiring at the end of this year, said he contacted Cornyn when senators first started talking about the anti-firearms package. He said that Kornin and Sen. Tom Tillis (RN.C.) supported the expansion of community health centers.

“I told them we had a working model,” Blunt said. “It works in Texas.”

There are serious gaps in mental health services in the US, especially for children. Only about 20% of children with some kind of mental disorder receive care from health professionals trained in the treatment of these disorders. data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show.

The problem is particularly acute in Texas, which the nonprofit advocacy group Mental Health America ranks last in terms of access to mental health.

Cornyn said the problem boils down to government programs underestimating mental health.

“The Texas legislature has tried to address this issue, but it is never enough, it is never comprehensive enough,” he said. “It’s always a matter of money.

Stabenow said she was talking to hay. Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut), another key negotiator and Senate Majority Leader. Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.) about including her idea and Blunt’s idea in the package.

Her suggestion: This should be done regardless of the gun violence bill.

Murphy, whose state was the site of the 2012 Newtown elementary school mass shooting, said he was wary of linking mental health to a package of gun violence. In his opinion, people with mental health problems are more likely to be victims of violent crime than perpetrators. Despite this, Murphy has long supported programs such as community health centers, he said.

“If the price of making changes to our gun laws was to help fix our broken mental health system, why not get involved,” Murphy said.

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