A bill from Sens. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) and Jon Tester (D., Mont.) to improve access to mental health care in rural America and curb rising suicide rates among farmers cleared the Senate Thursday as a part of the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
The Seeding Rural Resilience Act aims to address the farmer suicide crisis by increasing the accessibility to and decreasing the stigma of mental health care in rural America.
“I’m glad to see this bill pass out of the Senate. This is a clear message to farmers across the country that my colleagues and I stand with you and support you during these trying times," Grassley said. "This bill continues important efforts to raise awareness about mental health in rural America and provide the assistance necessary to encourage farmers and their families during difficult times.”
“Times are tough for a lot of folks in farm country, and the dual health and economic crises we’re facing haven’t helped,” Tester said. “Our bill helps folks in rural America who are struggling get the help they need and helps take away the stigma that’s kept too many from seeking it out. It’s a real victory this bipartisan bill cleared the Senate today, and I’ll keep pushing to ensure it becomes law so we can help farmers get the help they need and get back to doing what they do best: feeding our country and the world.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, the suicide rate is 45% higher in rural America than in urban areas. Americans in rural communities often face more isolation, distance from basic health care services, lack of broadband access, stigmas against receiving counseling and financial burdens due to stagnant commodity prices. These factors cause higher rates of stress for American farmers and ranchers, making it even harder for people in rural communities to get by.
The Senate bill will fight high rates of suicide in rural America by:
- Implementing a Farmer-Facing Employee Training Program that provides voluntary stress management training to Farm Service Agency, Risk Management Agency and National Resources Conservation Service employees;
- Forming a partnership between the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create a $3 million public service announcement campaign to increase public awareness of farm and ranch stress and destigmatize mental health care in rural communities, and
- Directing the secretary of agriculture to work with state, local and non-government stakeholders to determine best practices for responding to farm and ranch mental stress.
Grassley and Tester’s bill was also included in the House version of the NDAA, which passed that chamber 295-125 on Tuesday.