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Health & Wellness NewsMental Health News

Schlossberg's $100M mental health bill clears Pa. House

Shapiro roundtable.jpg
Sarah Mueller
State Rep. Michael Schlossberg, D-Lehigh, center, sits between state Sen. Jarrett Coleman, R-Lehigh, left, and Gov. Josh Shapiro during a roundtable discussion at Parkland High School last month. Schlossberg sponsored a $100 million mental health bill that Shapiro has vowed to sign if it passes the state senate.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — A $100 million mental health bill sponsored by an Allentown state lawmaker passed the tightly divided Pennsylvania House with widespread support this week.

State Rep. Michael Schlossberg, D-Lehigh, said Thursday afternoon he was optimistic his bill that cleared the chamber Wednesday would be signed into law this year.

  • The Pennsylvania House voted 173-30 Wednesday to approve $100 million of America Rescue Plan funding for mental health programs
  • If approved, it would support training and retaining behavioral health professionals, establishing specialty courts and funding suicide prevention programs
  • Rep. Michael Schlossberg, D-Lehigh, sponsored the bill

Gov. Josh Shapiro has pledged to sign the legislation should it reach his desk. But first, it will need to draw support in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Under the bill, the state would dedicate $100 million of American Rescue Plan funds toward mental health programs tied to employment, treatment and public safety.

Potential uses include training and retaining more behavioral health professionals; loans that would help these professionals to expand their practices; establishing or supporting specialty courts and diversion programs; grants for programs helping victims of gun violence and their families cope with trauma; creating or growing suicide prevention programs; and improving access to mental health telemedicine treatment.

Schlossberg introduced the bill in December and said it quickly drew bipartisan support. It ultimately passed the House this week by a margin of 173-30.

"The overall package was agreed to pretty widely. The devil was in the details ..."
State Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-Lehigh

The surge of mental health problems during and after the pandemic has forced politicians on both sides of the political aisle to recognize widespread needs in communities across Pennsylvania. The major negotiations were not over whether to commit more money to mental health needs, but over what type of programming it should support.

"The overall package was agreed to pretty widely. The devil was in the details, as it would be for $100 million," Schlossberg said.

Some of the money could be used to fund programs that pair police responding to calls with social workers, Schlossberg said. The plans have been widely discussed in Allentown, and Schlossberg said there's an appetite for these type of programs across the state. Supporters believe pairing mental health professionals with law enforcement can lead to less confrontational interactions while still keeping communities safe.

"It lets police officers be police officers. We ask so much of our cops, but we just don't give them enough," Schlossberg said.

Mental health has long been a high priority for Schlossberg, who has been open about his own battles with depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation — as well seeking treatment. He served on a behavioral health commission the Legislature assembled last year to explore how to best make use of the American Rescue Plan funding. The actual bill dedicates more funding to public safety and criminal justice than the report recommended.

In addition to this legislation, Schlossberg is calling on the state to restore funding for mental health services provided by counties. The money had been slashed during the Corbett administration over a decade ago and has not seen an increase since. Shapiro has called for boosting those programs by $20 million as part of his budget proposal.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.