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Gun bill supports mental health ‘but more needs to be done’ on guns, U.S. health secretary says

Xavier Becerr
Joe Amon
/
Connecticut Public
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra meets with members of Connecticut's congressional delegation and other health officials to talk about mental health services in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act at Family & Children’s Aid in Waterbury, Connecticut, July 6, 2022.

Two days after the deadly mass shooting north of Chicago, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services was in Connecticut to talk about new gun reform legislation.

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act includes $12 billion to support community mental health.

“We will make sure to get that money out as quickly as we can,” Xavier Becerra said Wednesday. “But we need to do more when it comes to guns. There’s only so much you can do on the health care side.”

Half of the $12 billion will go toward funding new behavioral health centers, according to U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) It’s not clear yet how much mental health funding Connecticut will receive as part of the new law. Murphy and other members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation hosted Becerra at Family & Children’s Aid Inc., a behavioral health center in Waterbury.

“It’s great to treat the mental health challenges that some of our youth are facing,” Becerra said. “But that kid had access to a whole bunch of weapons that are for mass destruction..”

Stakeholders in community mental health spoke with Becerra in a roundtable event at the center.

Heather Gates, the president of Community Health Resources, hopes some of the money will trickle down to nonprofits that provide mental health services. She says if it does, her agency will be able to support more crisis intervention work at local police departments and do more outreach to children no longer receiving mental health services during the pandemic.

Xavier Becerr
Joe Amon
/
Connecticut Public
Heather Gates, the president and CEO of Community Health Resources, speaks as U.S. Health & Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra meets with members of Connecticut's congressional delegation and other health officials. They talked about the mental health services in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act at Family & Children’s Aid in Waterbury, Connecticut, July 6, 2022.

“This is really lifesaving money and an opportunity for the development of a real behavioral health system in Connecticut and across the country that we have to stay focused on,” Gates told Becerra and other federal officials. “Because as soon as this crisis passes, we’ll be off to the next crisis.”

The bill also funds the hiring of additional mental health personnel in schools and the training of primary care providers to better support children’s mental health.

In addition, the legislation expands background checks for people under 21, offers federal funds to help states temporarily take guns from holders at risk of hurting themselves or others, and gives the federal government more power to tackle gun trafficking.

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