Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) introduced legislation to require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study the barriers that farming and ranching communities face to access mental and behavioral health care services.
“Colorado’s farmers and ranchers face uncertainty from forces beyond their control, and Congress needs to do more to help them access the mental and behavioral health care they need,” said Bennet. “This bill will help us understand the barriers they face and improve access to care for Americans in rural communities across the country.”
“Wyoming farmers and ranchers have done a remarkable job feeding the nation in the midst of a global pandemic, supply chain crisis and during record-high inflation, but that critical work often comes at a great personal cost,” said Lummis. “We have a responsibility to improve accessibility for mental health care services for our nation’s producers, and I’m excited to partner with Senator Bennet to identify ways we can improve access to these services throughout rural America.”
Volatile commodity prices, increased input costs, more frequent wildfires, severe drought, and other extreme weather events significantly affect farmers’ and ranchers’ mental health. According to the National Rural Health Association, the rate of suicide among farmers is three and a half times greater than the general population. A Morning Consult poll found that during 2021, most farmers, workers, and rural adults reported experiencing more stress and mental health challenges compared to the prior year.
Despite the demonstrated need for substance use disorder treatment and mental health care, many rural communities face barriers to access these services. The senators’ legislation would require the GAO to study the availability and accessibility of substance use treatment and mental health care providers trained to serve the needs of farmers, ranchers, agricultural workers, and their families. The study would also assess the barriers farmers and ranchers face to access care and successful programs at the state and local levels that can be replicated at the federal level.
"Agriculture is both a career and lifestyle, but with so many factors that impact success often being out a farmer’s or rancher’s control, they face a high risk of injury, poor mental health, and increased rates of substance misuse,” said Chad Franke, President, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. “We thank Senators Michael Bennet and Cynthia Lummis for sponsoring this important study. It will help inform our policymakers about these unique challenges, allowing them to make sound investments within our rural communities to create access to resources and support systems, like our AgWell program. Working together, we can ensure that everyone engaged in agriculture feels valued, connected, and healthy.”
“The National Rural Health Association (NRHA) thanks Senators Bennet and Lummis for their efforts to examine the accessibility of mental health and substance use disorder providers for the agricultural community. As we see rural areas grappling with rising behavioral health concerns and a lack of providers, it is key to understand where there are gaps in and barriers to access, particularly for these invaluable members of rural communities,” said Alan Morgan, Chief Executive Officer, National Rural Health Association.
“The Colorado Farm Bureau supports mental health initiatives in Colorado and sees the benefit of the legislation that Senators Bennet and Lummis have introduced. The limited resources available in our rural areas is statistically evident and profoundly felt among rural communities. We believe the study proposed in this legislation would further raise awareness and embolden the work of mental health initiatives like Colorado Agricultural Addiction and Mental Health Program (CAAMHP). Culturally competent care for those struggling with substance abuse disorders and mental health is vital so that our rural neighbors feel heard and supported,” said Carlyle Currier, President, Colorado Farm Bureau.
Bennet is a leading voice in Congress seeking bipartisan action on our nation’s ongoing mental and behavioral health crisis. In August, Bennet and U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) introduced legislation to help rural communities expand access to mental health care for seniors, improve recruitment of mental and behavioral health providers, and maintain the mental health care workforce. In March, Bennet and U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) introduced legislation to expand access to mental and behavioral health care for Americans with Medicare, Medicare Advantage, Medicare Part D, and Medicaid plans. Last year, Bennet introduced legislation to support the holistic health of patients with both mental and physical health conditions. In 2021, Bennet released ‘A Bold Vision for America’s Mental Well-being,’ a whitepaper with U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) to build bipartisan consensus on redesigning our nation’s mental health care system and reevaluating federal funding for this effort.