Portman, Durbin Introduce Bill to Expand Mental Health Support for Survivors, First Responders After Emergencies & Disasters

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affair Committee, and U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced the Post-Disaster Mental Health Response Act, bipartisan, bicameral legislation that would expand eligibility for FEMA’s Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program (CCP). CCP provides short-term mental health and trauma support resources for survivors and first responders. Currently, support through this program is only available following Major Disaster Declarations, but not Emergency Declarations.

The legislation is led in the House by U.S. Representatives Peter Meijer (R-MI), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), David McKinley (R-WV), and Dina Titus (D-NV).

“The survivors of catastrophic events, whether from an act of terror or extreme weather, can experience psychological harm.  Research from the National Institute of Health finds that crises counseling is an effective tool to help survivors overcome this trauma,” said Portman. “Unfortunately, FEMA does not currently have the authority to reimburse states for this critical service in the aftermath of declared emergencies.  That’s why I’ve introduced the bipartisan Post Disaster Mental Health Response Act to rectify this lapse and ensure states have every tool they need to make their communities whole.” 

“Natural disasters don’t just wreak physical damage, they can cause lasting emotional and mental scars for communities—like the devastation caused by the tornado that ripped through Edwardsville, Illinois,” said Durbin. “Whether it’s tornadoes, wildfires, hurricanes, or mass violence, victims and first responders should be able to access the same mental health resources in the aftermath of tragedies. That’s why the bipartisan Post-Disaster Mental Health Response Act is so important—the legislation expands trauma and mental health services in the wake of disasters.”

“As someone who previously worked on disaster response efforts, I am intimately aware of the multifaceted challenges that disasters of all scales and types can have on individuals and communities,” said Meijer. “We know major disasters require physical repairs, but we must also consider the mental and emotional tolls these events have and ensure all victims and survivors have access to the resources they need to cope and hopefully recover. I am glad to join this effort to make support available in the aftermath of any FEMA-declared disaster. I’m happy to see the bill introduced in the Senate and look forward to seeing the momentum continue.”

“Natural disasters and mass violence like the Boston Marathon bombing are disruptive and traumatic life events that can have a devastating impact on one’s mental health—but far too many people who survive these tragedies can’t access the critical mental health services offered by FEMA,” said Pressley. “Our bill would help survivors of all disasters access these critical resources, and I’m proud to see the momentum building in Congress. I’m grateful to Senators Durbin and Portman for their leadership and partnership in the Senate and for moving us closer to giving all survivors the supportive resources they need.” 

States cannot obtain reimbursement for trauma or mental health services delivered after emergency declarations. This legislation would amend FEMA statute to give states the option to request federal reimbursement after emergency declarations. Overall, this bill recognizes that post-trauma services may also be needed for those affected by smaller-scale disasters.

Over the last decade, there have been more than 4,000 Emergency Declarations in 37 states, according to FEMA’s database.  Most emergency declarations have been issued for winter storms and hurricanes, while major declarations have been issued for floods, tornadoes, winter storms, and hurricanes.  However, emergency declarations have also been issued in times of terrorism response, such as the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.

The legislation is endorsed by the National Association of EMTs, International Association of Fire Fighters, National Association of Counties, American Psychological Association, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Children’s Hospital Association, American Hospital Association, International Association of Emergency Managers, Center for Trauma-Informed Policy and Practice, American College of Emergency Physicians, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.