|  October 30, 2014  |  
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Begich Champions Education Programs, Mental Health Aid

Begich Puts Alaska Priorities First in Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Bill

Continuing to champion efforts to improve the education system, provide mental health services and increase resources for rural education and health care, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich today gained critical support for key Alaska programs as the Senate Appropriations Committee passed a major funding bill.

Sen. Begich used his seat on the powerful committee to support early childhood education programs for Alaska families, including programs to support states’ efforts to expand or create high-quality preschool systems for four-year-olds from low to moderate income families and Head Start.

“Alaska’s education needs are different than the Lower 48 and that is why I fought to make sure this bill provided important resources to improve early education and keep our Alaska Native communities strong,” said Sen. Begich.

Sen. Begich was also successful in obtaining funding for a program mirroring his Mental Health First Aid bill.  The bill establishes training programs to help community members recognize the signs of mental illness and safely address crisis situations. In addition, the bill calls for protocols for initiating timely referrals to community mental health services. Sen. Begich has been a leader on the issue of mental health first aid.

“These are common sense steps to help keep our communities safe, provide critical support for mental health services and suicide prevention, and expand access to health care in rural areas,” said Sen. Begich.  

At the request of Sen. Begich, multiple Alaska specific provisions were included in the Health and Human Service and Legislative Branch Operations for Fiscal Year 2014 bill, including provisions to:

  • Invest in innovation - $170 million to support school districts, groups of schools, educational service agencies, and community organizations efforts to improve student achievement, increase high school graduation rates and improve college enrollment and completion.
  • Support for special education - $11.68 million for formula grants that help states pay the additional costs of providing special education and related services to children with disabilities aged three through 21 years. 
  • Build the health care workforce in rural and underserved areas - $30 million to address health care workforce shortages, particularly those in primary care.  This program supports the recruitment and retention of local physicians, students, faculty and other primary care providers in rural and medically underserved areas by providing local, community-based, interdisciplinary primary care training.
  • Support for mental health - $15 million provided for Mental Health First Aid programs to identify and respond to those showing sign of mental illness.
  • Prevent suicide in American Indian and Alaska Native populations- $5 million for competitively awarded grants targeting tribal entities with the highest rates of suicide over the last 10 years to address substance abuse and mental health issues in the youth population.
  • Improve quality and access to health care - $643.8 million to improve the health of all mothers, children, and their families by reducing health disparities, improving access to health care, and increasing the quality of health care.
  • Outreach to improve access to care - $141.8 million, including $55.4 million for a Rural Health outreach program to improve access to care.

The bill passed out of committee and will move on to the full Senate for a vote.

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