Ciresi introduces legislation to support child mental health workforce

HARRISBURG, March 31 – State Rep. Joe Ciresi, D-Montgomery, introduced H.B. 725 and H.B. 726 to support the mental health workforce.

“Pennsylvania’s children need adequate mental health support, but the mental health profession has been depleted by underfunding, provider and staffing shortages, and insufficient programs and access,” Ciresi said. “Especially as the need for mental health services challenges the system’s capacity, we need to address the profession’s recruitment and burnout. My two bills would help retain and recruit highly qualified individuals into the mental health field and ensure that our children receive the quality care they need.”

The bills were produced in response to the Joint State Government Commission’s study on the shortage of mental health care professionals in Pennsylvania. The commission reported that Pennsylvania has a below-average number of mental health care providers per capita, and the trend is worsening. The commission recommended greater financial assistance for mental health professionals to reduce the cost barrier of higher education and attract more individuals to the field. The issues highlighted in the commission’s 2020 report only worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw higher demand for mental health services and added to the workforce shortage. 

H.B. 725 would establish a student loan forgiveness program specifically for students seeking undergraduate or master’s degrees in the fields of psychology, counseling, social work, human services work, psychiatry, and nursing. To be eligible, students must graduate from one of the universities that are part of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) in one of the aforementioned fields, with a minimum B average grade, and agree to work in a mental health related profession focusing on early childhood through adolescence.

H.B. 726 would support retention of existing mental health professionals by establishing the Mental Health Workforce Retention Program. The program would allow mental health professionals, specifically professionals working in the psychology, counseling, social work, and human services fields focusing on adolescents for at least seven years, to participate in a lottery in which winners receive a $5,000 bonus. The lottery would distribute bonuses to winners every year for five years to help stabilize the child mental health workforce in Pennsylvania.

“In 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association declared a national emergency in children’s mental health, and a U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory warned of ‘alarming increases in the prevalence of certain mental health challenges’ for young people across the nation,’” Ciresi said. “We in Pennsylvania urgently need more qualified mental health professionals to help our children with the issues they are facing.”