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House passes bill to address high rural suicide rates

Seeding Rural Resilience Act increases access to mental health resources and expands suicide prevention efforts.

The House passed the bipartisan, bicameral Seeding Rural Resilience Act, which was included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Endorsed by the Blue Dog Coalition, the Seeding Rural Resilience Act helps address the growing rate of suicide in rural communities across the country.

It was introduced in the House by Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D., N.Y.), along with Reps. John Katko (R., N.Y.) and Angie Craig (D., Minn.). The companion bill in the Senate is sponsored by Sens. Jon Tester (D., Mont.) and Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa).

From 1999 to 2016, suicide rates grew in nearly all 50 states. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, the suicide rate is 45% higher in rural areas than in urban areas.

“Our farmers, ranchers and rural communities work so hard to keep our country fed, but that responsibility weighs on their mental health,” said Brindisi, the Blue Dog Coalition’s co-chair for whip. “Now, more than ever, we need to be doing more to help producers manage the stresses of maintaining our food supply. Whether it’s low prices, trade unrest or now the global pandemic, so much of a farmer’s bottom line is out of their control. The bipartisan Seeding Rural Resilience will help address the stigma and increase access to mental health resources for our rural communities.”

Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D., Va.), co-chair of the Blue Dog Task Force on Rural Opportunity, said, “The challenges facing central Virginia’s farm families — everything from low commodity prices to extreme weather — cause unique stressors and hardships in agriculture. Congress must do more to provide our farmers and producers with access to local mental health resources. The passage of the bipartisan Seeding Rural Resilience Act is a step forward in reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness in rural America. By promoting effective, community-based suicide prevention, this legislation would lend a hand to the hardworking men and women who feed our country and the world.”

“COVID-19 has not only impacted our day-to-day lives, but it asked us to keep a physical distance from the loved ones we would normally turn to during turbulent moments,” said Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D., N.M.), co-chair of the Blue Dog Task Force on Rural Opportunity. “Right now, the nationwide shortage of mental health providers hits rural communities especially hard as they figure out how to adapt to ever-changing conditions. An expansion of suicide prevention efforts to remote areas will help address the high suicide rates facing rural residents. In order to expand opportunity to every corner of our country, suicide prevention must be a top priority if we are to ensure rural communities are receiving the care they need.” 

The Seeding Rural Resilience Act would do the following:

  • Implement a Farmer-Facing Employee Training Program that requires the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide voluntary stress management training to Farm Service Agency, Risk Management Agency and National Resources Conservation Service employees.
  • Form a partnership between the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and USDA to create a $3 million public service announcement to increase public awareness of farm and ranch stress and destigmatize mental health care in rural communities.
  • Direct the secretary of agriculture to work with state, local and non-government stakeholders to collaborate and determine best practices for responding to farm and ranch mental stress.

The bipartisan legislation is supported by the American Dairy Coalition, American Farm Bureau Federation, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, American Psychological Assn., Farm Aid, Female Farmer Project, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Barley Growers Assn., National Corn Growers Assn., National Family Farm Coalition, National Farmers Union, National Milk Producers Federation, National Sunflower Assn., National Young Farmers Coalition, Rural & Agricultural Council of America, U.S. Canola Assn., U.S. Cattlemen’s Assn. and USA Dry Pea & Lentil Assn.

TAGS: Policy
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