WASHINGTON – US Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Representative Josh Harder (D-Calif.-09) have introduced bicameral legislation to improve peer-to-peer mental health services to meet the needs of behavioral health of farm workers.
the Support for Farmworker Mental Health Legislation require the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN), which provides mental health support to agricultural workers, to explicitly include farm workers as an eligible population. The bill would also authorize grants for peer-to-peer mental health support, which would help provide cost-effective and culturally competent health care to farm workers. The legislation aims to help address the gap in mental health care services for our nation’s farm workers, who are disproportionately affected by mental health concerns and often lack access to adequate health care.
“Our farm workers feed our nation, but they face higher rates of mental health challenges due to long, physically demanding work hours, little or no benefits, and low salary,” said Senator Padilla. “Because of their mental health needs, it is critical that farm workers have clear access to the Network and the Ranch Stress Assistance Network. I am proud to lead this bicameral effort to ensure that some of the most important workers in our country receive the health care they need.
“The Central Valley is the breadbasket of the world – 25% of our nation’s food is grown right here,” said Representative Harder. “This would not be possible without our hardworking farm workers. It is important that they have the health care, including the mental health care, they need to keep our nation fed and healthy. This bill is a big step toward making that a reality. “
“The National Rural Health Association (NRHA) thanks Senator Padilla and Representative Harder for their efforts to expand access to behavioral health for all members of the agricultural community. The Supporting Farm Workers’ Mental Health Act will ensure that farm workers can benefit from the behavioral health resources and support provided through the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network. We applaud the commitment of lawmakers to protect these valuable members of rural communities,” said Alan Morgan, Chief Executive Officer, National Rural Health Association.
Farmworkers face significant barriers to care, including a lack of culturally competent providers and low health literacy in addition to challenges associated with accessing care of health in rural areas. According to the University of California, Merced, 19% of farm workers report symptoms of anxiety and 14% report feeling depressed.
FRSAN was authorized in 2008 in response to high suicide rates among ranchers and farmers. the Support for Farmworker Mental Health Legislation would specifically require FRSAN to initiate, expand, or maintain peer-to-peer mental health services to help address the unique mental health challenges of farmworkers.
Senator Padilla is committed to ensuring that farm workers have the protections they deserve. Padilla recently introduced the Fairness for Farm Workers, legislation to update the country’s labor laws to ensure that farm workers receive fair wages and compensation. He also recently led 112 members of Congress to call on the Biden Administration to implement an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) workplace federal heat standard as soon as possible. The letter urges OSHA to model its standards after those set forth in the Asunción Valdivia Heat, Illness, Injury and Fatality Prevention Act, which he introduced in July to protect the safety and health of employees, including farm workers, who are exposed to dangerous heat conditions in the workplace. He also introduced a pair of bills to equip the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to better collaborate and meet the needs of farmworkers.
The bill was endorsed by the National Rural Health Association and the National Center for Farmworker Health.
Senator Padilla is also a strong advocate for expanding mental health care access, especially in underserved communities. He recently announced the upcoming launch of the Senate Mental Health Caucus during a roundtable at the San Francisco LGBT Center, where he listened to the mental health concerns of LGBTQ+ youth and the community. Padilla first introduced the Comprehensive Mental Health in Schools Pilot Program Act to address the unprecedented mental health crisis among young people in primary and secondary schools, exacerbated by the pandemic.