January 27, 2021

Cortez Masto Aims to Bolster Virtual Peer Support Behavioral Health Programs in New Bill

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) re-introduced her Virtual Peer Support Act, legislation intended to help boost the capacity of peer behavioral health support programs by transitioning them to an online setting. Specifically, this bill would provide $50 million in grants through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to eligible organizations to fund the implementation of new virtual peer support programs and the expansion of existing online services to meet community needs. 

“For everyone struggling with mental health concerns, from first responders carrying the trauma they see at a crime scene to the heavy burden our students face during the pandemic, peer support can be the key difference that saves someone’s life. The tragic string of student suicides in the Clark County School District adds even more urgency to the need to address this crisis and to prioritize improving mental health services for Nevadans. That is why I’ve reintroduced my Virtual Peer Support Act to help key behavioral health programs that have already proven to be effective in improving mental health outcomes move online to meet the huge community needs during this pandemic. All of us have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic in different ways, and I’ll continue to work in Congress to advocate for resources that help our community get through these tough times.”


The Virtual Peer Support Act will help peer support organizations build capacity to provide uninterrupted virtual services to vulnerable populations during the coronavirus pandemic. Specifically, this bill would provide $50 million in grants through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to enable eligible organizations to transition in-person behavioral health support groups to online platforms, or build out their current virtual capacity. Eligible entities include both national organizations and community-based organizations.  

The grant funding could be used for immediate implementation of peer support programs, virtual transition costs, development of the mental health workforce, and expanding services to meet community needs by offering multilingual or demographic-specific assistance for groups such as frontline COVID-19 health care workers, Veterans, caregivers, and seniors. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would also be required to report to Congress on the efficacy of recipient programs.

This legislation is supported by the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, Mental Health America and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.