(Central Square) – A bill to create a loan repayment program for Virginians with mental health problems sailed through a House of Delegates subcommittee on Thursday, receiving the approval of politicians from a group of legislators.
House Bill 1534, authored by Del. Nadarius Clark, D-Portsmouth, and co-sponsored by other Democrats, are proposing the creation of a Mental Health Loan Repayment Program for mental health professionals in Virginia for at least five years. .
The bill would allow the Board of Health to apply for, and receive federal or other available funds for “primary health care improvements,” including funds that have been intended for any medical loan repayment program, medical scholarships or health education centers, according to the bill. A financial review for this bill was not available as of Thursday.
The bill comes in response to the rise in stress and mental health issues during the COVID-19 pandemic. Research from the Journal of the American Medical Association found anxiety and depression in children twice in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, and found that symptoms of depression in US adults were “more than 3-way higher” during the disease than before.
In addition, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the percentage of adults with recent symptoms of anxiety or depression between August 2020 and February 2021 increase from 36.4% to 41.5%, with the biggest increase among adults between the ages of 18-29.
Proponents of the measure argue HB 1534 will help empower Virginia’s mental health workforce to address the long-term effects of mental health epidemics in the Commonwealth.
“We need a public health response,” Clark told lawmakers Thursday. “It’s not an option – it’s important. We have a responsibility to meet this time to get our fellow Virginians the care they need. The need is high, but the recruitment and retention for access to mental health is low.
“We want to make sure more people can get the education they need by lowering the common barrier to entry — the cost of a college degree,” Clark later added. .
HB 1534 was unanimously passed by lawmakers in a House Health, Welfare and Institutions subcommittee on Thursday without debate.
The bill follows actions taken by the General Assembly in 2021 to establish the Virginia Behavioral Health Student Repayment Program, to set aside $1.6 million to repay a portion of student loan debt for health care. The program is aimed specifically at psychologists, licensed therapists, licensed professional counselors and licensed social workers.
In his amendments to the budget, the Gov. Glenn Youngkin $230 million in funding to transform the state’s health care system. A $2.5 million portion of the funding will go toward the Behavioral Health Loan Repayment Program to strengthen funding to hire and retain psychologists and psychiatrists.
HB 1534 will be heard again in the House Appropriations Committee.