VIDEO: Bustos Prioritizes Rural Health, Communities of Color in $196.5 Billion Appropriations Bill

WATCH: With Significant Bustos Wins, Legislation Heads to House Floor for Final Passage

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (IL-17) helped pass the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Fiscal Year 2021 funding package in the powerful Appropriations Committee, prioritizing communities of color, rural health care, mental health care, high-paying jobs and a quality education in the $196.5 billion package.

The bill builds on historic progress House Democrats accomplished last year, with continued investments in programs that provide opportunities for millions of American families, including a good education, a good job, and access to affordable health care.

“Our nation promises equal opportunity for all, but the pandemic has laid bare the deepening disparities that exist throughout the country. Too often, our rural areas and communities of color are left behind when it comes to access to health care providers, a quality education, or job training and employment opportunities,” said Congresswoman Bustos, a member of the House Appropriations Committee. “Today, I was proud to cast my vote in favor of this package, which will take critical steps towards addressing these and other disparities, to lift up every American community.”

WATCH: Congresswoman Bustos delivers remarks on the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Fiscal Year 2021 funding package.

Congresswoman Bustos fought to include crucial provisions that would help rural communities and communities of color, including a new pilot program—based on Congresswoman Bustos’ Social Determinants Accelerator Act— aimed at helping local governments create their own plans to combat societal factors that negatively impact health. The bill also increased provisions to improve access to crisis care mental health services, address health care provider shortages in rural areas, improve accountability for programs aimed at addressing teacher shortages, and study opportunities for workers at risk of losing their jobs to automation.

“As COVID-19 has shown, social factors play a significant role our health outcomes. The Social Determinants of Health Pilot Program will provide states with needed funding to develop cross-cutting approaches to address health and social needs, while driving important cross-agency coordination. We are excited to see this program advance and applaud the Committee for including this as part of the fiscal year 2021 appropriations report,” Krista Drobac, Co-Chair Aligning for Health said.

“Rep. Bustos’ innovative funding initiative will help our communities direct those experiencing a mental health crisis toward proven interventions, reduce costly emergency room boarding, and avoid unnecessary encounters with the criminal justice system,” said American Psychiatric Association (APA) CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A. “The evidence shows these interventions to be effective and well worth the investment.”

Congresswoman Bustos worked to secure the following provisions in this package:

  • The creation of an Inter-Agency Social Determinants Council and $10 million for a new pilot program to help local governments create plans that aim to address the external, social factors that impact health. Through the Social Determinants pilot program, grants would be provided to local governments to help with issues that negatively affect health, such as access to fresh foods, health care and safe housing. The creation of this Council and pilot program follows Congresswoman Bustos’ introduction of the Social Determinants Accelerator Act, which has been endorsed by over 80 organizations across the country.
  • A $35 million increase in funding for mental health and support for crisis care. The increased support for crisis care comes after Congresswoman Bustos introduced the Crisis Care and Suicide Prevention Act, which aims to increase accessible crisis care mental health services and crisis care funding by $35 million. 
  • A $25 million increase in funding for the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training (BHWET) Grant Program and support to help increase mental health care providers in rural areas. The BHWET program works to increase the health workforce across the country through student stipends. The legislation also encourages the program to increase its engagement in rural areas. Last month, Congresswoman Bustos sent a letter to the Health Resources and Services Administration requesting they increase the number of BHWET trainees from rural areas and increase the number of grantees that serve rural communities.
  • A study on the barriers to future training and opportunities for workers who will be impacted by increased automation. It is estimated that nearly 50 percent of jobs in the United States could be at risk due to automation, and studies have shown that Black and Latinx workers will be disparately impacted. With the pandemic resulting in massive unemployment, creating new paths for future training and opportunity for these workers is critical. The legislation directs the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study on the barriers to delivering future training and new opportunities. Last year, Congresswoman Bustos introduced the Investing in Tomorrow’s Workforce Act with Senator Dick Durbin.
  • A study to determine how to improve access to obstetric care in rural areas and prevent obstetric units from shuttering in rural hospitals. According to the Rural Health Research Gateway, between 2004 and 2014, 179 rural counties lost hospital-based obstetric services. In Northwest and Central Illinois, Pekin and Galesburg recently lost hospital-based obstetric units. 
  • Support for protections for student borrowers and those with student loans, by requiring the U.S. Department of Education to increase awareness of the Federal Student Aid Feedback System and the Federal Student Aid Ombudsman Group. The Federal Student Aid Feedback System is used to submit feedback, report an issue or complaint, send a suggestion, provide information about a suspicious activity or an alleged scam, dispute a resolution, or give feedback about the federal financial aid experience. The Ombudsman Group is a neutral, informal, and confidential resource to help resolve disputes about federal student aid.
  • Increased accountability for the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) rural-facing efforts through a report on how they are coordinating with the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Health Liaison, a position created by Congresswoman Bustos last year.

The legislation also includes a $5 million increase in funding for the Investigating Co-Occurring Conditions Across the Lifespan to Understand Down Syndrome (INCLUDE) Initiative to help Americans with Down Syndrome, and increased support for the dissemination and utilization of the Get Ahead of Sepsis Campaign and Sepsis Prevention Toolkit through the CDC. Congresswoman Bustos is the co-chair of the Congressional Task Force on Down Syndrome. In 2018, Sepsis was a leading cause of death in Illinois 17th Congressional District and led to nearly 200 avoidable deaths.

WATCH: Congresswoman Bustos delivers remarks on the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Fiscal Year 2021 funding package.

The legislation now heads to the House Floor for final passage.