FIRST ON FOX: Congress is taking steps to address the rural mental health crisis in the U.S. with new legislation aimed at expanding the mental health resources available to farmers and ranchers.
‘Farming can be a lonely endeavor, and it can also be a stressful industry when the economy takes a turn for the worst, tornadoes and derechos devastate farmland, and animal diseases infect flocks and livestock — all of which impact the well-being of our producers,’ Rep. Randy Feenstra, R-Iowa, explained to Fox News Digital.
Feenstra’s bill, the Farmers First Act, is meant to ‘expand behavioral health resources in our rural communities and connect our farmers with medical professionals who can provide the care that our producers deserve,’ he said. The legislation is backed by two of his fellow Republicans and two House Democrats.
People living in rural communities, like farmers and ranchers, have far less access to medical services, including mental health, than their suburban and urban counterparts.
Sixty-five percent of rural counties do not have a psychiatrist, according to statistics compiled by Mental Health America. Rural communities also experience a higher rate of suicide, according to the data — with a suicide rate of 18.3 to 20.5 per 100,000 residents, compared with 10.9 to 12.5 in large urban areas.
‘More than 1 in 5 U.S. adults live with a mental illness. Congress cannot continue to ignore the mental health crisis in America. Rural farming communities have limited or no access to mental health services — making it difficult for farmers, farmworkers, and their families to get the support they need,’ Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., told Fox News Digital in a statement.
Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., one of the bill’s two GOP co-sponsors alongside Rep. Zach Nunn, R-Iowa, said, ‘They need to know they are not alone, and that help is available.’
The bill would reauthorize the Farm and Ranch Assistance Network (FRSAN), which connects farmers, ranchers and relevant workers to stress management resources. It would also increase FRSAN’s annual funding to $15 million over a period of five years.
‘Farmers and farmworkers are some of the toughest, hardest working people I know, but farming is a uniquely stressful job, and we’ve got to get them the support they need,’ Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn., another of the bill sponsors, said.
The program was included in the 2018 Farm Bill, a must-pass piece of legislation that must be taken up every five years. It sets fiscal priorities for a wide range of initiatives, from urban food programs to rural broadband.
A Senate counterpart to Feenstra’s Farmers First Act was introduced in the Senate earlier this year in May. It was led by Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.
If someone exhibits signs of suicide ideation, experts urge to seek help immediately by calling or texting 988 or chatting at 988lifeline.org.