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Collins Joins Bipartisan Group Introducing Bill to Expand Mental Health Services for Rural Farmers, Fishermen, and Forestry Professionals Amid COVID-19

Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senator Susan Collins joined a bipartisan group of Senators in introducing legislation to expand telemental health services in rural areas.  As the nation combats the ongoing pandemic, rural America is confronted with an unprecedented struggle to provide mental health services to small towns and communities.  The Home-Based Telemental Health Care Act of 2020 would establish a grant program for health providers to expand telemental health services for those specifically in rural populations working in farming, forestry, and fishing industries.  The legislation was also introduced by Senators Mike Rounds (R-SD), Tina Smith (D-MN), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), John Boozman (R-AR), Ed Markey (D-MA), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), and Michael Bennet (D-CO).


“Telemental health services have become critical tools for rural communities working in farming, forestry, and fishing industries, especially in the midst of a pandemic,” said Senator Collins. “This bipartisan bill would provide rural Maine’s health care providers with access to the resources they need to support individuals struggling with mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression.”


“Fishermen are familiar with uncertainty and uncontrollable circumstances under normal conditions, but the level of ambiguity and the impact of the current pandemic has heightened worries and concerns regarding their businesses and the future of their industry,” said Monique Coombs, Director of Marine Programs for the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association. “Access to support and resources, especially during these trying times and in rural areas, is imperative to their health and wellness, and the future of the industry.”


"Accessing health care and reducing the stigma for mental health care is critically important for farmers at all levels. Emotional health is a key aspect of farm viability, and farmers as independent businesses often don't have ready access to the same benefits and safety nets that other employers provide. Offering specific efforts for our farming community can go a long way to help bridge this gap in services," said Sarah Alexander, Executive Director, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.


“Professional loggers work in a demanding and stressful industry, and these pressures can take a toll on their health and wellness,” said Dana Doran, Executive Director of the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine (PLC). “Now, with the economic uncertainty and loss of markets created by the pandemic and the unfortunate accident at the Pixelle Specialty Solutions pulp mill in Jay, these pressures are greater than ever and the importance of ensuring access to mental health support for those struggling in this environment is critical to the industry’s present and future survival.  We are thankful for Senator Collins’ recognition of these challenges and working towards a solution that can keep our hard working men and women healthy and safe during these trying times.”


This legislation would direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in coordination with the Rural Health Liaison of the Department of Agriculture, to award grants for demonstration projects focused on tele-mental health services that target rural populations, specifically those working in the farming, fishing and forestry occupations. It would authorize up to $10 million for each fiscal year through 2025, using current funds.


The Home-Based Telemental Health Care Act of 2020 is supported by the American Farm Bureau Federation.

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