Kathy Castor Introduces the Advancing Student Services in Schools Today Act

This week, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., showcased the “Advancing Student Services in Schools Today (ASSIST) Act.”

Castor’s office offered some of the reasons why she introduced the proposal at the end of last week.

“Our children are in crisis. It’s not a new problem, but one that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Castor’s office noted. “This bill would establish a new grant initiative at the Department of Health and Human Services to hire and retain mental health and substance use disorder care providers in schools. The bill includes a 90 percent increase in federal Medicaid matching funds to pay for these services, allowing states to increase the rate of pay for these providers in a sustainable manner.”

“The current state of child and adolescent mental health is a national emergency, and we need urgent action to expand capacity to deliver appropriate care to meet children’s mental and behavioral health needs,” Castor said. “Providing children with services where they are improves mental health outcomes and reduces substance-use disorders among youth. I have heard from students, parents, and providers across the Tampa Bay area that the significant shortage of mental health care providers is keeping our neighbors from getting the critical care they need. The ASSIST Act would help remove the cost barrier for providers to care for children in schools, with a sustainable funding mechanism to provide effective services to our nation’s youth. This is a commonsense step to keep our youngest neighbors safe, healthy and engaged in school and their community.”

The American Federation of Teachers, the American Psychological Association, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the Trevor Project and Sandy Hook Promise Action Fund are among the dozens of groups backing the proposal.

“AFT’s educators and school staff have seen up close the mental health challenges facing students. Far too many children and adolescents are struggling with social isolation, depression or going through the trauma of having lost a loved one, be it to COVID, gun violence or other trauma. Now more than ever our kids need dedicated support, including the counselors, social workers and school psychologists they can often only access at school. I thank Rep. Castor for introducing the ASSIST Act, which will increase the number of mental health professionals in schools and urge its consideration and passage,” said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

“As schools continue their efforts to address the impacts of COVID-19 on their students, including related to their social and emotional well-being, increasing school-based mental health services—where shortages existed even before the pandemic—is critical. The American Psychological Association supports the ASSIST Act and applauds Representative Castor’s efforts to provide sustainable funding to ensure that more schools can hire and retain mental and behavioral health providers, both in response to COVID-19 and in the long term,” said American Psychological Association CEO Arthur Evans.

Castor’s bill was sent to the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee. So far, there is no companion measure over in the U.S. Senate and she has not reeled in any co-sponsors in the U.S. House.

Kevin Derby
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