In the News
Source: KMA Land
Apr 19 2018
(Washington, D.C.) -- Iowa Senator Joni Ernst is co-sponsoring a bill that would attempt to curb the high suicide rate among agricultural workers.
Ernst, along with Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin, introduced the Facilitating Accessible Resources for Mental Health and Encouraging Rural Solutions For Immediate Response to Stressful Times -- or Farmers First Act -- Thursday. Ernst says the bipartisan legislation would provide funding through the USDA to a number of organizations to combat high rates of suicide in the agriculture community.
"The Farmers First Act would provide seed funding through the United States Department of Agriculture to state departments of agriculture, state extension services and non-profits to establish helplines, provide suicide prevention training for farm advocates, create support groups and reestablish the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network."
A 2016 study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that those who work in the farming, fishing or forestry industry have a suicide rate nearly 6.5 times higher than the U.S. average. Ernst says more needs to be done to help those in rural areas dealing with mental health issues.
"With more than 88,000 farms and over 150,000 farmers in Iowa, our agricultural community is the backbone of our state," said Ernst. "We must do more to ensure those who work tirelessly from sunrise to sundown to feed and fuel our world have access to necessary mental health resources."
Ernst's bill would provide $10 million per year for five years through the USDA to be used by state departments of agriculture, state extension services and non-profits for a variety of suicide-prevention efforts. Ernst says she hopes the legislation can be folded into this year's Farm Bill, which is expected to come to the Senate Ag Committee in the next few weeks for debate.
"We still are working through a number of these different provisions that we would like to see in the Farm Bill," said Ernst. "We will debate those heavily in committee. The House Ag Committee has wrapped up their work on the Farm Bill. We will have our own Farm Bill in the Senate and then hopefully we can work out the differences in conference committee. We do have opportunity and we will be working this very hard through the Farm Bill."
Ernst says she hopes federal dollars can be leveraged with state and local funding to improve access to mental healthcare, especially for rural areas where help can be far away.
"What we would like to do, of course, is see those services develop, whether that is through the extension services, through additional mental health counselors or tapping into additional resources out there," said Ernst. "We want a collaboration among the federal partners. Our state of Iowa is engaging in the mental health arena right now, establishing different regions and immediate crisis centers, so we would be able to utilize those as well."
The legislation has been endorsed by four additional senators, as well as 14 national agriculture groups.