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U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, is championing legislation to strengthen access to mental health services in agricultural communities.
The Farmers First Act of 2023 is bipartisan legislation that would reauthorize the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN), a program that connects farmers, ranchers and other agriculture workers to stress assistance programs and resources. Through FRSAN, state departments of agriculture, state extension services and nonprofits receive funding to establish helplines, provide suicide prevention training for farm advocates and create support groups for farmers and farm workers.
“Arkansas agricultural producers help feed and clothe the world. This responsibility creates unique stresses as they manage operations and face challenges that are often beyond their control. This legislation continues efforts to improve access to mental health services in rural communities and creates additional opportunities to connect agriculture workers and producers with behavioral health providers to enhance the quality of life for families and individuals throughout farm country,” Boozman said.
The Farmers First Act is critical as suicide, mental health challenges and stress are on the rise in rural communities. According to the National Rural Health Association, the rate of suicide among farmers is three and a half times higher than among the general population. A Morning Consult poll found that during 2021, 61 percent of farmers and farm workers and 52 percent of rural adults reported experiencing more stress and mental health challenges compared to the prior year. The same poll also found that while stigma around seeking help or treatment for mental health has decreased, it remains a factor, especially in agriculture.
Boozman authored a provision in the reauthorization measure that would enhance connections between FRSAN grantees and behavioral health medical providers such as certified community behavioral health clinics, health centers, rural health clinics and critical access hospitals. This is critical to helping build relationships with behavioral health professionals.
The legislation is led by U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Joni Ernst (R-IA) and, in addition to Boozman, is cosponsored by Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Senators Jon Tester (D-MT), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Tina Smith (D-MN), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Michael Bennet (D-CO).
Initiatives to improve rural mental health resources and expand access to suicide prevention programs in rural America were included in the 2018 Farm Bill. Boozman and his colleagues on the Senate Agriculture Committee are in the process of writing the next Farm Bill.
“Our farmers face so many unique challenges that cause stress and impact their mental health. We’re making real progress treating health care above the neck the same as health care below the neck. This legislation will help connect farmers and rural communities to stress resources and mental health care, including my successful community behavioral health clinics that offer 24/7 crisis services and other resources close to home,” said Stabenow.
Boozman is also a cosponsor of the Home-Based Telemental Health Care Act of 2023, legislation that would establish a grant program for health providers to expand tele-mental health services in rural areas and for individuals working in the farming, forest and fishing industries.