HHS' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will give states and territories $3 billion in block grants to support behavioral health, the agency said Tuesday.
Half the money will help states and territories provide comprehensive community-based mental health services and improve existing services for people with severe mental health conditions. The rest of the funding will go toward substance use disorder prevention and treatment.
"Behavioral health is a priority for the Department of Health and Human Services. The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear the need to invest resources in our nation's mental health and address the inequities that still exist around behavioral health care. That's why we are making this historic investment in mental health and substance use services," HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.
The pandemic worsened the nation's ongoing struggle to address behavioral health issues, disproportionately affecting Black, American Indian, Alaska Native and Hispanic communities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 20,000 more people died from drug overdoses through September 2020 than the year before. In addition, the agency found increased levels of poor mental health, substance use and suicidal ideation in a June 2020 survey.
"The prevalence of symptoms of anxiety was approximately three times those reported in the second quarter of 2019, and prevalence of depression was approximately four times that reported in the second quarter of 2019," HHS said in a statement.
But CMS recently found that Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program beneficiaries continue to use mental health services less than they did before the pandemic, despite the increased need for such care. The House of Representatives last week passed two bills that call for increased funding and access to mental health resources for emergency department patients and healthcare professionals.
HHS said it would create a new council to coordinate the agency's efforts to address behavioral health issues.
"We know multiple stressors during the pandemic—isolation, sickness, grief, job loss, food instability and loss of routines—have devastated many Americans and presented the unprecedented behavioral health challenges across the nation. Addressing the COVID-19 mental and behavioral health impacts on vulnerable and disenfranchised populations are among the top priorities of the Biden-Harris administration. Establishing a new Behavioral Health Coordinating Council will assure the right prioritization and guidelines are in place to provide pathways to prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery services," HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. Rachel Levine said in a statement.
The new funding stems from the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package Congress passed in March.