Meng Introduces Legislation to Increase Language Access and Mental Health Services at Community Health Centers

Nov 9, 2021
Press Release
WASHINGTON, D.C. – This afternoon, U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) introduced the Mental Health Workforce and Language Access Act, a bill that seeks to increase language access to mental health services at community health centers.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the mental health of so many of my constituents in New York and individuals across the country, escalating the demand for mental health professionals,” said Congresswoman Meng. “The fear of coronavirus-related hate crimes against many communities – such as the Asian American community – has only underscored this urgent need for assistance. But for those who may not possess English language proficiency, help is often out of reach. This lack of access is unacceptable and must change. Our nation’s community health centers are struggling to hire mental health professionals who speak their community’s language or understand their culture. The Mental Health Workforce and Language Access Act is a must pass bill to ensure that our community health centers have the resources they need to hire mental health professionals so that language barriers are never an obstacle to anyone’s emotional well-being. Our communities need these life-saving services.”
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, about 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, up from one in ten adults who reported these symptoms in 2019. As 1 in 12 people across the United States rely on community health centers for care, this phenomenon has been acutely felt at these facilities.  
Representative Meng’s bill would ensure that community health centers have access to the resources they need in order to attract the qualified behavioral health talent that fits their community’s needs. Her legislation would:
  1. Establish a four-year pilot program to provide additional benefits to mental health professionals who commit to serving in specific Federally Qualified Health Centers. This pilot initiative would be unique in that it seeks to match mental health professionals with community health centers, preferably at which at least 20% of the patients are best served in a language other than English. Mental health professionals who participate in the program would receive additional annual loan repayment compensation. Even greater loan repayment compensation would be available to those who are fluent in a language other than English, needed by the health center at which they commit to serve.
  1. Establish a new grant program that would provide federal grants to community health centers to help them recruit, hire, and employ qualified mental health professionals who are fluent in a language other than English. Community health centers around the country are struggling to hire mental health clinicians as they cannot offer competitive salaries, compared to private hospitals. This grant would be key in helping the health centers close that gap. Any community health center would be eligible to apply, however the bill specifies that preference is given to those health centers at which at least 20% of the patients are best served in a language other than English. The bill would also direct that a portion of the grants be made available for outreach purposes to inform communities about the mental health services available at community health centers.
"Given that 80% of the individuals and families who turn to us for their primary healthcare and mental health needs are better served in a language other than English, improving language access is key to serving them effectively, said Kaushal Challa, Chief Executive Officer of the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center which operates a facility in Flushing, Queens. “With provider shortages impacting community health centers across the country, the incentives provided in this bill will help in our recruitment efforts to meet the rising tide of mental health challenges we face today. We commend Congresswoman Meng for her leadership on this critical issue."
"Accessing in-language services is essential for patients to get the help and support they need," said Adam Carbullido, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO). "Nearly 7 million patients, including many Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, who get care at community health centers are best served in a language other than English. AAPCHO applauds Rep. Meng for introducing the Mental Health Workforce and Language Access Act to strengthen and support community health centers' capacity to recruit, hire, and retain multilingual mental health professionals. We urge Congress to pass this bill."
“The Asian American Psychological Association (AAPA) enthusiastically supports the Mental Health Workforce and Language Access Act of 2021,” said the Asian American Psychological Association. “Asian Americans have historically had among the lowest rates of mental health service utilization across all racial/ethnic groups and continue to face systemic barriers to access mental health services. The COVID-19 pandemic and surge in anti-Asian racism have raised mental health as a priority concern in many Asian American communities, with 4 in 10 Asian Americans experiencing acute psychological distress at this time. Improving language access to mental health services, particularly in trusted community-based settings, is a key pathway to getting Asian Americans the mental health services they need and deserve now and into the future.”
A copy of the Mental Health Workforce and Language Access Act can be viewed here. The measure includes 23 original cosponsors.
Community health centers provide affordable care to underserved communities, serving patients in New York and throughout the country.