Colo. senators introduce bill to provide mental health support to ag communities
WASHINGTON – Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Cory Gardner, R-Colo., this week introduced bipartisan legislation to provide farmers, ranchers and agricultural workers with critical mental health support and resources.
“During meetings and listening sessions around the state, we’ve heard about the challenges and uncertainty felt in rural Colorado,” Bennet said. “Tackling this challenge requires a comprehensive approach that includes access to health and wellness services for farmers and ranchers. I’ll continue working with my colleagues across the aisle to ensure America’s agricultural communities have the resources they need and deserve.”
“As a fifth generation Coloradan who still lives in a tiny town on the Eastern Plains of Colorado that is totally dependent on agriculture, I see the hardships our farmers and ranchers experience every day,” Gardner said. “When I was a kid growing up in the 1980s, I remember Colorado farmers and ranchers facing tough times, and I’m afraid that we are seeing that same thing happen again. My friends and neighbors are filing for bankruptcy, being forced to sell their family farms, taking on more debt, and struggling to provide for their families. These stories break my heart and serve as a reminder that we need to be there for our farmers and support our rural communities during times of hardship, and that is exactly what the FARMERS FIRST Act does. This bipartisan legislation will make sure our agriculture community doesn’t feel abandoned and alone. The forgotten men and women of America must know that we have their backs, that their communities have their backs, and that we will always strive to help them. While this legislation is a good start, more must be done and I will continue to work with my colleagues on solutions to help our agriculture community.”
“This nation’s farmers and ranchers have served our country well, and during stressful economic times such as this, we must provide adequate services to assist our producers and their communities,” said Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Don Brown. “When a farmer and rancher is facing a financial crisis, it can create an emotional toll on every aspect of life. From paying bills, to feeding their children, caring for the livestock and crops, retirement options, and even what they will be able to leave their heirs, the worry and anxiety can be overwhelming. The Farmers First Act can be a valuable resource for those who are facing tough times whether it is related to this economic downturn or the day-to-day stresses of our industry.”
“Rocky Mountain Farmers Union sends its thanks to Sen. Bennet and Sen. Gardner for joining together in bipartisan fashion to support the FARMERS FIRST Act,” said Rocky Mountain Farmers Union President Dale McCall. “At a time when farmers and ranchers are facing unstable markets, low commodity prices, and drastic weather, legislation like this helps bring certainty and stability to those who grow the food, feed, fiber, and fuel that sustain us all.”
A 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study found agricultural workers have a higher suicide rate than any other occupation. To assist these farmers in crisis, the Facilitating Accessible Resources for Mental Health and Encouraging Rural Solutions For Immediate Response to Stressful Times (FARMERS FIRST) would provide seed funding through the U.S. 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. In addition to these resources, the bill would establish a Farm and Ranch Stress Assessment Committee to better understand how agricultural workers’ mental health impacts rural development and provide recommendations for addressing mental health care needs within the agriculture community.
This bill is endorsed by the National Milk Producers Federation, National Corn Growers Association, National Farmers Union, National Family Farm Coalition, National Farm Medicine Center, Farm Aid, Female Farmer Project, National Rural Health Association, American Soybean Association, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, Rural and Agricultural Council of America, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, American Agri-Women, National Farmers Union, and National Young Farmers Coalition.