August 05,2020

Wyden, Cortez Masto Propose Bill to Reduce Police Violence During Mental Health Crises

New Legislation Builds on Proven Models to Help Americans with Mental Illness and Enhances Medicaid Funding to States

Washington, D.C. – Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., today proposed a new bill to help states adopt mobile crisis response teams that can be dispatched when a person is experiencing a mental health or substance use disorder (SUD) crisis instead of immediately involving law enforcement.

“It’s long past time to re-imagine policing in ways that reduce violence and structural racism, and health care can play a key role in that effort,” Wyden said. “Oregon has a proven model in the CAHOOTS program, and I want other states and communities to have federal resources to pursue similar approaches. Americans struggling with mental illness don’t always require law enforcement to be dispatched when they are experiencing a crisis – CAHOOTS is proof positive there is another way.” 

“For individuals experiencing a behavioral health crisis, the assistance of trained health care and social workers is more effective than interventions from law enforcement in deescalating the situation and helping to connect those individuals with vital services to address the problems that led to the crisis,” said Cortez Masto. “I’m proud to support legislation that will provide Nevada and states across the country with additional Medicaid funding to help them set up mobile crisis teams that have a proven  track-record of providing effective, trauma-informed care to those in need.”

“We hope that the CAHOOTS model pioneered by White Bird Clinic in Eugene, OR can help communities across the United States develop public safety systems that align with their values,” said Chris Hecht, Executive Coordinator of White Bird Clinic. “Dispatching medical and behavioral health professionals to care for community members in crisis is a proven way to improve outcomes, combat racism, and avoid violence. We thank Senator Wyden for this legislation because we are eager to share a model that has succeeded in our community for 31 years.”

The bill, the Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets (CAHOOTS) Act, grants states enhanced federal Medicaid funding (a 95% federal match) for three years to provide community-based mobile crisis services to individuals experiencing a mental health or SUD crisis. It also provides $25 million for planning grants to states to help establish or build out mobile crisis programs.

The bill is part of Wyden’s agenda to address a persistent lack of access to mental health care for too many Americans. He is also pursuing legislation to support access to wraparound services that help individuals after the initial crisis response.

A one page summary of the bill can be found here. Legislative text can be found here.