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APA secures key wins in COVID-19 relief legislation

American Rescue Plan Act contains critical APA advocacy priorities.

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Polishchuk, K. (2021, March 19). APA secures key wins in COVID-19 relief legislation.

U.S. Capital dome

On March 11, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act into law. The bill provides nearly $2 trillion in emergency funds to address the ongoing public health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. APA’s advocacy helped secure many critical provisions related to mental and behavioral health care, education, research, and increased testing and vaccine distribution. APA worked individually and with coalition partners to ensure that health equity for all vulnerable populations, including low-income communities, communities of color, rural populations, tribal communities, children, veterans, and the elderly, was addressed in the legislation.

The Act provides nearly $4 billion in new funding for mental health and substance use disorder initiatives, and APA joined a group of national mental health organizations thanking President Biden for his leadership in enacting this legislation (PDF, 230KB). The funding includes:

  • $1.75 billion for the Community Mental Health Services Grant
  • $1.75 billion for the Substance Abuse Prevention Treatment Block Grant
  • $100 million for the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Program
  • $80 million for the Pediatric Mental Health Care Access Program
  • $30 million for Project AWARE, to improve school-based mental health services
  • $20 million for youth suicide prevention programs
  • $10 million for the National Childhood Traumatic Stress Network

The bill also provides $420 million for mental and behavioral health through the Indian Health Service and $14.5 billion for medical care, including mental health, through the Department of Veterans Affairs. The package also includes $20 million in funding for a CDC education and awareness campaign encouraging the use of mental health and substance use disorder services by health care professionals, and $40 million in funding to the Health Resources and Services Administration for establishing and expanding mental health and substance use disorder programs for health care providers.

Additionally, the American Rescue Plan Act includes language that APA helped secure that ensures a portion of the education money can fund social and emotional learning purposes. The Plan makes an unprecedented, $170 billion investment in public education and includes several of APA’s key advocacy priorities related to students and learning. It provides $125 billion for K-12 education, a part of which must go toward collecting data on and addressing pandemic-related learning loss. The bill contains $7.2 billion in dedicated funding to expand access to broadband for remote learning purposes and $3 billion for programs under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The bill also provides $40 billion for higher education, half of which must be allocated through direct grants to students. It ensures that any student loan forgiveness earned by borrowers over the next five years, either through programs currently in law or through emergency action, will not impose a tax liability. The new law also includes $600 million for the National Science Foundation to support research on pandemic-related issues.

Under the American Rescue Plan Act, funding for testing, tracing, and vaccination distribution, especially for communities of color and rural and frontier populations, received significant funding increases. The bill also contains several provisions related to supporting and improving health care coverage. This includes a temporary boost to Medicaid Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP) to allow states to continue funding home and community-based services during and shortly after the pandemic; a two-year incentive to expand Medicaid for states that have not yet done so; a 6-month, 100% subsidy of COBRA premiums for individuals whose employment was impacted; and an option for states to extend Medicaid and CHIP coverage for one year postpartum.

Finally, the bill takes significant action to help cut poverty by assisting individuals and families experiencing financial hardship. It provides additional direct payments of $1,400 per eligible individual and extends enhanced unemployment benefits by an additional $300 per week through September. Importantly, the American Rescue Plan Act expands both the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, steps which are projected will lift an estimated 5.5 million children out of poverty. It also extends nutrition assistance, housing and rental assistance, childcare, and small business assistance programs, and provides funding for state, local, tribal, and territorial governments to help them deliver a variety of public health and public education services.

For more information, contact Kenneth Polishchuk.