Major Developments in Mental Health Reform

Mental health reform is a key component of ending homelessness for this disproportionate number of people suffering from mental health or substance use disorders.

Cures Act Heads to President’s Desk

In the past two weeks, Congress has moved quickly to pass the 21st Century Cures Act, a bill with a number of health care and justice provisions. On Wednesday, Dec. 6, the Senate voted to approve the bill, which the House had previously passed. The bill extends grants to address homelessness and mental health and provides additional funding for new interventions. The bill is expected to be quickly signed by President Obama.

The bill contains language that aims to improve mental health and substance abuse treatment for people engaged in the corrections system, support mental health courts and train law enforcement officials to better interact with people experiencing mental health crises.

The legislation, which was drafted to drive medical innovation, also includes funding for:

  • Vice President Biden’s “cancer moonshot” program
  • A package for President Obama’s precision medicine initiative which is aimed at curing Alzheimer’s among other degenerative conditions
  • Changes to FDA regulation procedures

Act Includes Increased Funding For Treatment

The Alliance celebrates inclusion in the Cures Act of critical funding to address the opioid epidemic and funding and provisions to reform the mental health system in the U.S.

The Cures Act includes $1 billion for additional funding to implement interventions introduced in the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA). CARA, signed earlier this year by the President, authorizes prevention, treatment, recovery and criminal justice interventions to address over-prescription and opioid misuse.

The Cures Act also reauthorizes, modifies and introduces Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) programs that provide mental health and substance use treatment. Specifically, the bill:

  • Establishes an Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) program with special consideration for grant applicants with potential to reduce homelessness
  • Continues funding for Community Mental Health Service Block Grant programs (MHBG), grants for treatment and recovery for homeless individuals and Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness (PATH) grants
  • Requires state plans to include descriptions for how these programs will serve people experiencing homelessness and provide employment and housing supports as components of mental health interventions
  • Urges the development and implementation of evidence-based practices for treating mental health and substance use disorders

There is more work to be done to improve the mental health system and meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of Americans who suffer from mental illness and experience homelessness, but Congress has made great steps by sending this legislation to the President’s desk to be passed into law.