WASHINGTON D.C. – Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01) and Congresswomen Grace Meng (NY-06) and Yvette Clarke (NY-09) and Senators Martin Heinrich (NM), John Cornyn (TX) and Alex Padilla (CA) reintroduced the bipartisan Mental Health Workforce and Language Access Act, a bill that would increase language access for mental health services at community health centers.  

The legislation would establish a new grant program to provide federal funds to community health centers to help them recruit, hire and employ qualified behavioral health professionals who are fluent in a language other than English.

“In order to increase access to mental health services, we must address the ever-growing workforce shortage of mental health professionals,” said Congressman Fitzpatrick. “That is why I am proud to join the bipartisan, bicameral Mental Health Workforce and Language Access Act which will bolster our mental health workforce through new grants and incentives for health centers to hire more qualified professionals.”

“We are experiencing a mental health crisis in the United States,” said Congresswoman Meng. “For many communities, like the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander (AANHPI) community, the burden has only increased. Many of my constituents in the AANHPI community have struggled to find clinicians who speak their language or understand their culture. The Mental Health Workforce and Language Access Act would ensure community health centers have the resources they need to hire clinicians with the knowledge and skills to treat individuals whose first language isn’t English. Access to these lifesaving services, for all communities, is long overdue.”

“Mental health disparities are often an issue that is overlooked and misunderstood,” said Congresswoman Clarke. “Moreover, just as we see in other areas of medicine, people of color suffer mental health consequences at a higher rate than white Americans. Racism, social disadvantages, and discrimination can result in a plethora of mental health problems, many communities of color experience stigma surrounding mental health issues, and far too many lack sufficient mental health support and treatment. The Mental Health Workforce and Language Access Act would bolster the resources available to community health centers for more clinicians with the expertise to treat individuals from marginalized communities. I’m proud to join my colleagues in reintroducing this bill. It’s time we bring real equity into our mental health system.”

“We have a mental health care shortage in New Mexico that demands action,” said Senator Heinrich. “The Mental Health Workforce and Language Access Act will address our state’s severe provider shortage by giving community health centers the tools they need to recruit and hire qualified mental health professionals, while working to end language barriers that prevent New Mexicans from receiving the health care they need."

“Community health centers are an important resource for Americans seeking mental health support,” said Senator Cornyn. “This bill expands Texans’ access to these mental health resources by helping community health centers recruit, hire, and employ more behavioral health care professionals who are fluent in different languages, and I’m glad to support it.”

“We must tackle our country’s mental health crisis head on,” said Senator Padilla. “The Mental Health Workforce and Language Access Act will help us remove a critical barrier to care by empowering Community Health Centers to recruit, hire, and retain mental health professionals in non-English speaking communities.”

Under the legislation, any community health center would be eligible to apply for funding, however preference is given to those health centers where at least 10% of the patients are best served in a language other than English.

The measure would also direct that a portion of the grants be made available for outreach purposes to inform communities about the behavioral health services available at community health centers. The legislation is endorsed by the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC), Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO), Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum, National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association, National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, National Latina/o Psychological Association and Doc Wayne.

“We are deeply grateful for the leadership of U.S. Representatives Meng, Clarke, and Fitzpatrick and Senators Heinrich, Padilla, and Cornyn in advancing legislation that boosts investments in a culturally competent behavioral health workforce,” said Rachel A. Gonzales-Hanson, Interim President and CEO of the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC). “For more than 55 years, health centers have provided high quality care to underserved communities across the country and are on the front lines of addressing the mental health crisis confronting our nation. This legislation is essential for the ability of health centers to hire more providers and reach more patients in need."  

"Community health centers are a cornerstone for providing culturally and linguistically appropriate primary care and behavioral health services,” said Adam Carbullido, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO). “Health centers are the medical home for nearly seven million patients who are best served in a language other than English, including many Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. AAPCHO applauds Reps. Meng, Clarke, and Fitzpatrick and Sens. Heinrich, Padilla, and Cornyn for introducing the Mental Health Workforce and Language Access Act to strengthen the health center workforce and increase capacity to recruit, hire, and retain critical mental health providers able to meet their patients' language needs. We urge Congress to pass this bill.”

A copy of the bill can be viewed here.