Late last week, the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris announced a $1.9 trillion relief and recovery package. The purpose of this effort is to address COVID-19 head-on and to begin the urgent process of economic recovery for the United States. Included in this legislative proposal are the following major items:
- $1,400 stimulus checks to supplement the $600 checks awarded in the previous COVID-19 relief package.
- $400 per week in federal supplements to state unemployment compensation until the end of September.
- Increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.
- $350 billion in federal relief to support state, county and city recovery, including schools and public health infrastructure.
- $50 billion to ramp up COVID-19 testing efforts, and $20 billion for vaccine distribution.
- $20 billion for public transit systems.
- Up to 14 weeks of paid sick leave for family members to care for relatives who contract COVID-19; firms up to 500 employees would receive up to $1,500 per employee to offset these costs.
- The child tax credit, the earned income tax credit and premium tax credit would be extended.
- The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to reduce hunger would be extended through September.
- $25 billion for rent relief, and a moratorium on evictions through September 2021.
- $4 billion for SAMHSA and HRSA to expand behavioral health services.
Behavioral healthcare can benefit in innumerable ways if this package is enacted fully. Among the most significant effects would be the following:
- Behavioral healthcare clients, especially those in inpatient and residential settings, and behavioral healthcare providers will have a much earlier opportunity to receive COVID-19 vaccinations than would otherwise be the case.
- Behavioral healthcare providers, including peers, will have access to significantly more resources for care provision. With the potential for a behavioral health pandemic looming, this will make it possible for providers to reach many more children and adults who have had adverse emotional experiences because of COVID-19.
- Provision of economic, insurance, rent and food support for millions of Americans who have lost their jobs will have a salutary effect on mitigating the behavioral health pandemic.
- Adult children under Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), a group that includes many persons with serious mental illness and substance use conditions, will be eligible for the first time for the economic provisions of the package.
- The public health infrastructure will be expanded by more that 100,000 workers. This will create many new openings for behavioral health providers, including peer workers.
- The economic and emotional burden on unpaid family care workers who care for relatives who contract COVID-19 will be reduced significantly.
Each of these provisions is urgently needed. Implementing this bold plan is essential. Our very future depends upon it.