House Passes Bipartisan, Blue Dog-Backed Bill to Address High Suicide Rates in Rural America
WASHINGTON—Today, 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 to address the growing rate of suicide in rural communities across the country. It was introduced in the House by Blue Dog Coalition Co-Chair for Whip, Rep. Anthony Brindisi (NY-22), as well as Reps. John Katko (NY-24) and Angie Craig (MN-02). The companion bill in the Senate is sponsored by Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA).
From 1999 to 2016, suicide rates grew in nearly all 50 states. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate is 45 percent 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 Rep. Anthony Brindisi (NY-22), 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.”
“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,” said Rep. Abigail Spanberger (VA-07), Co-Chair of the Blue Dog Task Force on Rural Opportunity. “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 (NM-02), 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 (USDA) to provide voluntary stress management training to Farm Service Agency, Risk Management Agency, and National Resources Conservation Service Employees.
- Form a partnership between the Department of Health and Human Services and USDA to create a $3 million PSA 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 nongovernmental 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 Association, 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 Association, National Corn Growers’ Association, National Family Farm Coalition, National Farmers’ Union, National Milk Producers Federation, National Sunflower Association, National Young Farmers Coalition, Rural & Agricultural Council of America, U.S. Canola Association, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, and the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Association.