Padilla, Harder Introduce Legislation to Improve Mental Health Care Access for Farm Workers

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Representative Josh Harder (D-Calif.-09) introduced bicameral legislation to improve peer-to-peer mental health services to address the behavioral health needs of farm workers. 

The Supporting Farm Workers’ Mental Health Act would require the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN), which provides mental health support to agricultural workers, to explicitly include farm workers as an eligible population. The bill would also permit grants for peer-to-peer mental health support, helping to provide cost-effective and culturally competent health care to farm workers. The legislation aims to help address the gap in mental health care services for our nation’s farm workers, who are disproportionately affected by mental health concerns and often lack access to adequate health care. 

“Our farm workers feed our nation, but they face higher rates of mental health challenges due to long, physically demanding work hours, little to no benefits, and low wages,” said Senator Padilla. “Given their mental health needs, it is critical that farm workers are clearly able to access the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network. I’m proud to lead this bicameral effort to ensure that some of our country’s most essential workers receive the health care they need.”

“The Central Valley is the breadbasket of the world – 25% of our country’s food is grown right here,” said Representative Harder. “None of this would be possible without our hardworking farmworkers. It’s vital that they have the health care, including mental health care, they need to keep our country fed and healthy. This bill is a big step towards making that a reality.”

“The National Rural Health Association (NRHA) thanks Senator Padilla and Representative Harder for their efforts to expand behavioral health access to all members of the agricultural community. The Supporting Farm Workers’ Mental Health Act will ensure that farmworkers can benefit from the behavioral health resources and support provided through the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network. We applaud the lawmakers’ commitment to protecting these invaluable members of rural communities,” said Alan Morgan, Chief Executive Officer, National Rural Health Association. 

Farm workers face significant barriers to care, including a shortage of culturally competent providers and low health literacy in addition to the challenges associated with accessing health care in rural areas. According to the University of California, Merced, 19% of farm workers reported symptoms of anxiety and 14% reported feeling depressed.

FRSAN was authorized in 2008 in response to the high suicide rates among ranchers and farmers. The Supporting Farm Workers’ Mental Health Act specifically would require FRSAN to initiate, expand, or sustain peer-to-peer mental health services to help address farm workers’ unique mental health challenges.

Senator Padilla is committed to ensuring that farm workers have the protections they deserve. Padilla recently introduced the Fairness for Farm Workers Act, legislation to update the nation’s labor laws to ensure farm workers receive fairer wages and compensation. He also recently led 112 members of Congress to call on the Biden Administration to implement an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) workplace federal heat standard as quickly as possible. The letter encouraged OSHA to model its standards after those laid out in the Asunción Valdivia Heat, Illness, Injury and Fatality Prevention Act, which he introduced in July to protect the safety and health of employees, including farm workers, who are exposed to dangerous heat conditions in the workplace. He also introduced a pair of bills to equip the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to better collaborate with and meet the needs of farm workers.

The bill is endorsed by the National Rural Health Association and the National Center for Farmworker Health.

Senator Padilla has also been a strong advocate for expanding mental health care access, especially for underserved communities. He recently announced the upcoming launch of the Senate Mental Health Caucus during a roundtable at the San Francisco LGBT Center, where he listened to the mental health concerns of LGBTQ+ youth and the community. Padilla also previously introduced the Comprehensive Mental Health in Schools Pilot Program Act to address the unprecedented youth mental health crisis in primary and secondary schools, exacerbated by the pandemic.

A one-pager of the bill is available here.

Full text of the bill is available here.


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