Candidate for United States Senator
ANSWER – For years, my brother, Jeff, bravely struggled with mental illness. Although he is no longer with us, I’ve spent my entire career trying to end the stigma around mental illness and ensure that every American has access to the care they need. When my brother was alive, not a day went by when my family and I weren’t concerned about Jeff posing a risk to himself or those around him. This struggle is a deeply personal topic for my family, but one I am compelled to share in the hopes it inspires others to share their own stories so we can end the stigma.
Question Two – Oregon ranks at the bottom of states in a well-regarded national survey of access to public treatment services for mental illness, addiction and alcoholism. What can you in office do to change this?
ANSWER – For 30 years, the White Bird Clinic in Eugene has run the CAHOOTS program, which sends health professionals as first responders when a 9-1-1 call comes in about someone experiencing a mental health crisis. And in Portland, Street Response is underway and has recently expanded citywide.
As Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I have been fighting for federal funding for these programs through the Medicaid program. Last year, I was proud to secure one billion dollars in Medicaid funding in the American Rescue Plan for mobile crisis services. These dollars will be available next spring, when states will be able to opt in and receive temporary enhanced funding for delivering mobile crisis services through Medicaid. But that was just the start. I’m also working to secure permanent funding to take the CAHOOTS-style program national.
Question Three – In that same national survey, Oregon ranks at the top for prevalence of mental illness, addiction and alcoholism. What can you in office do to change this?
ANSWER – Making sure that those in crisis can talk to someone when it’s needed means we need to tackle five areas:
● We need a strong mental health workforce able to provide care where people are – in schools for youth, community clinics, residential programs, hospitals, or virtually by telehealth.
● Insurance companies must treat mental health equal to physical health. There can be no cutting corners in mental health coverage.
● We need to address racial and geographic disparities. That means creating a more inclusive and diverse mental health workforce and addressing long-standing disparities in access to care and mental health outcomes.
● We need to focus on helping people get care sooner, before conditions escalate. The Surgeon General recently told me that Americans on average wait 11 years between the time they first experience mental health challenges and the time they get treatment. It’s a staggering number.
● We need to improve care for people who experience a mental health crisis by investing in innovative models like CAHOOTS, which helps people in crisis receive mental health care instead of winding up in emergency rooms, jails, or tragic encounters with the police.
Question Four – A natural consequence of lack of access to treatments and high prevalence of mental illness, addiction and alcoholism is chronic homelessness. Why isn’t Portland’s strategy to reduce homelessness working and what could you do in office to change that?
ANSWER – Addressing the mental health crisis requires that we also address the housing crisis. Oregon’s shortage of affordable housing and the pandemic have created a tragic and dangerous situation, leaving over 15,000 Oregonians without a roof over their head. Unstable housing is one of the largest factors perpetuating the mental health crisis, particularly with young people.
That’s why I authored the Decent, Affordable, Safe Housing for All (DASH) Act, which would require the federal government to invest in housing security for all by:
● providing housing vouchers and fully-funded support services for anyone experiencing homelessness
● investing in housing development and preservation to increase affordable housing supply.
● creating accountability measures to ensure states are working to end homelessness.
I am proud that the House of Representatives recently passed my proposal to invest $7 billion in housing vouchers for our unhoused neighbors and I will continue fighting to get it passed in the Senate.