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Rep. Pressley’s Post-Disaster Mental Health Response Act Signed Into Law

Jan 02, 2023

Bill Expands Mental Health Support for Survivors of Natural Disasters, Terrorist Attacks, Other Tragedies

Bill Text | Bill Summary

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) released the following statement celebrating her Post-Disaster Mental Health Response Act, bicameral legislation to expand mental health support for survivors of natural disasters and terrorist attacks that are designated emergency declarations by FEMA. The legislation was signed into law by President Biden today.

“When disaster strikes – whether it be a natural disaster or mass violence – survivors are often left grappling with lasting trauma that has devastating impacts on their mental health. But too often, critical mental health services offered by FEMA to cope with these tragedies are inaccessible.

“Our Post-Disaster Mental Health Response Act is a simple solution that centers the needs of survivors of all disasters, and I am proud to see it signed into law by President Biden. Now, FEMA crisis counseling assistance will be available to all survivors regardless of a tragedy’s designation. Trauma is nonlinear and indiscriminatory, and our federal response should meet every impacted individual where they are.

“Thank you to my colleagues for their partnership and to the advocates from my district – including Manya Chylinski, a survivor of the Boston Marathon attack – whose experiences informed this legislation every step of the way. Survivors deserve not only to heal but to thrive, and this bill will move us one step closer to helping them do just that.”

The Post-Disaster Mental Health Response Act was first introduced by Rep. Pressley in the House in partnership with Reps. Dina Titus (NV-01), David McKinley (WV-01) and Peter Meijer (MI-03), and alongside Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Rob Portman (R-OH) in the Senate.

“Disasters, whether in the form of tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, or mass violence, can cause emotional and mental scars that have lasting effects beyond the physical damage. Communities impacted by a disaster deserve access to trauma and mental health services to cope with the aftermath and rebuild their lives,” said Senator Durbin. “I’m grateful for the work my colleagues Senator Portman and Congresswoman Pressley did to get the Post-Disaster Mental Health Response Act to President Biden’s desk. I urge him to sign it swiftly so that more communities can access mental health services.”

“In the last decade, there have been more than 4,000 Emergency Declarations in 37 states for incidents including hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, and terrorist attacks. I was pleased to work with Rep. Presley on the Post Disaster Mental Health Response Act so all survivors and communities can qualify for FEMA’s counseling assistance program. Mental health support for victims is a critical part of recovery from any disaster. I’m glad President Biden signed this vital legislation today,” said Congresswoman Dina Titus (NV-01).

“It’s been an honor to work with Congresswoman Pressley and her team on the Post Disaster Mental Health Response Act,” said Manya Chylinski. “I’m thrilled it’s been signed into law, because this validates that there are very real mental and emotional health wounds after disaster and provides much needed support for survivors. I know what it’s like to walk away from a tragedy and feel invisible and to struggle with the trauma; and honestly, I’m a bit overwhelmed when I think of all the people who will be helped and whose lives will be changed for the better because this mental health support is now the law.”

In a joint op-ed published in the Dorchester Reporter on the nine-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon attack, Rep. Pressley and Manya Chylinski, an advocate and board member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Massachusetts, who shared her own experience with Pressley to inform the bill, continued their calls for passage of the legislation.

The Post-Disaster Mental Health Response Act would expand eligibility for FEMA’s Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program (CCP), which provides short-term mental health resources for survivors. Currently, support through this program is only available following “Major Disaster Declarations,” but not “Emergency Declarations.”

This legislation is endorsed by NAEMT
(National Association of EMTs), International Association of Fire Fighters, National Association of Counties, American Psychological Association, National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors, American Mental Wellness Association, Children’s Hospital Association, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Campaign for Trauma-Informed Policy and Practice, American College of Emergency Physicians, Iowa Primary Care Association, Gundersen Health System, Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy & Action, Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly (CARIE), Inseparable, Association of Behavioral Healthcare, Center for Law and Social Policy, National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, Riverside Community Care, and Team Rubicon.

“New resources from the Post-Disaster Mental Health Response Act will help disaster survivors cope with the often-unnoticed emotional toll. Without the proper support, tragic events like hurricanes and terrorist attacks can impact communities for generations, increasing substance misuse, suicide, and poor health outcomes,” said Jesse Kohler, Campaign for Trauma-Informed Policy and Practice’s Executive Director. “Investing in community-based resources like peer support groups, educational events on trauma symptoms, and support phone lines staffed by locals will help communities repair and recover from within. We applaud Congresswoman Pressley on this victory and are grateful for her continued leadership on this issue.”

In the last decade alone, there have been more than 4,000 Emergency Declarations in 37 states and 72 percent of all Congressional districts. From hurricanes and earthquakes to terrorist attacks and other mass violence, these emergencies have led to lasting trauma for individuals, families, and communities, and significant cost burdens on states and governments tasked with rebuilding from these crises.

Through the CCP, FEMA provides technical assistance and reimbursement to states, tribes, and territories to address the mental health impacts in the aftermath of tragedies. However, CCP is only available to states, tribes, and territories that have received a “Major Disaster Declaration,” and is not available for disasters that receive “Emergency Declarations.”

To address this problem, the Post-Disaster Mental Health Response Act would amend the CCP so that it applies to Emergency Declarations. This legislation will ensure that disasters that don’t meet the physical or monetary requirements for a Major Disaster can still receive mental health support for impacted communities. For a detailed summary of the legislation, click here.

At a House Oversight Committee hearing, Rep. Pressley questioned FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell about the trauma caused by natural disasters and the need to expand eligibility for the CCP. In response to her questions, Administrator Criswell acknowledged the importance of expanding the program and committed to working with the Congresswoman to ensure more impacted communities are eligible for support through the CCP. A full transcript and video of their exchange is available here.

The Senate companion legislation to the Post-Disaster Mental Health Response Act was introduced in February 2022 by U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (HSGAC).

Throughout her career, Congresswoman Pressley has been a tireless advocate for trauma-conscious policymaking. 
  • In June 2021, Rep. Pressley reintroduced the STRONG Support for Children Act, her landmark legislation that takes a holistic and community-based approach to addressing the growing crisis of childhood trauma.
  • In March 2021, Rep. Pressley sent a letter to President Biden calling on him to address the nation’s growing trauma crisis and laying out a series of steps the administration should take to confront the far-reaching hurt plaguing our communities and our nation.  In April, she published an op-ed where she reflected on the collective pain experienced by communities in her district over the past year.
  • In July 2019, Rep. Pressley worked with Chairman Cummings to convene the first-ever Congressional hearings on childhood trauma.  Watch Congresswoman Pressley’s full question line and follow-up questions here and here.
  • As a Boston City Councilor, she convened the Council’s first-ever listening-only session to hear directly from those impacted by the trauma of community gun violence.