Sun. Feb 5th, 2023

A bill co-sponsored by Congressman Bobby Scott to strengthen support for students’ mental health narrowly passed the House of Representatives on Thursday.

The legislation comes at a critical time, said James J. Feldman, president of the Virginia Education Association. VEA is a coalition of more than 40,000 teachers and school support professionals.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the need for mental health care that is already in short supply, especially for our students,” Scott, a Democrat from Newport News, said in a statement.

The bill, known as the Mental Health Issues Act, would create a funding program to help state educational agencies recruit and retain mental health providers in high-need public elementary and secondary schools.

It will also fund Head Start programs to promote behavioral health services for children and employees. Head Start is a federal program designed to help young students from low-income families succeed in school.

“We cannot protect the health of our nation or help communities recover if we don’t strengthen our mental health care system,” Scott previously said.

The bill would also give the Department of Labor more power to ensure that employer-sponsored group health plans provide mental health or substance use disorder benefits as required by the Mental Health Equity and Addiction Equity Act.

The bill looks likely to face a battle in the Senate; it has little support from House Republicans.

On Thursday, Rep. Virginia Fox said in the House of Representatives that the bill is far-reaching and will be void. The North Carolina Republican blamed the pandemic-related school closures on the mental health crisis for teens and said lawmakers should focus on addressing learning loss.

“If my colleagues really want to address our nation’s mental health, I would encourage my colleagues to work across the aisle and use the deliberative process to shape more common sense and targeted legislation,” she said. “[The bill]tries to do too much — and it doesn’t do it well.”

Katie King, [email protected]