Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) introduced the Virtual Peer Support Act 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.
“All of us have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, and for many Nevadans these months of uncertainty and heartache have created new stressors and worries or exacerbated existing mental health concerns. Peer behavioral health support programs have already proven to be effective in improving mental health outcomes, and this legislation will help these programs transition their services online to safely meet growing community needs. As we continue to navigate this pandemic, it is vital that we keep finding innovative ways to connect Nevadans to safe, quality and accessible mental health care.”
Peer support specialists are individuals who identify as current or former recipients of behavioral health services who support other individuals living through similar experiences. Peer support groups, led by peer support specialists, provide people living with behavioral conditions a place to build a community, share experiences, discuss coping skills, and offer hope to one another.
The Virtual Peer Support Act will help peer support organizations build capacity to provide uninterrupted virtual services to vulnerable populations through 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.