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WASHINGTON— Congressman Tom Emmer (MN-06) today questioned Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge during a House Financial Services Committee hearing providing oversight to the agency. Emmer asked Secretary Fudge to identify HUD’s barriers to implementing his Securing Facilities for Mental Health Services Act, which was reintroduced this week with bipartisan support.

“Secretary Fudge and I agree: the widespread shortage of inpatient psychiatric beds is contributing to America’s mental health crisis,” Emmer said. “Every day that we fail to act, more patients in need are pushed to emergency rooms, homeless shelters or jails. We look forward to working with our Financial Services colleagues to make this common-sense fix become law.”

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Emmer questions HUD Secretary Fudge in today's Financial Services Committee hearing

Background

Emmer re-introduced the Securing Facilities for Mental Health Services Act earlier this week alongside Representative Ritchie Torres (NY-15). If passed, this bill will help alleviate the inpatient bed shortage across the country and eliminate barriers to inpatient psychiatric hospital expansion.

The legislation would eliminate a provision in Section 242 of the National Housing Act that currently prohibits inpatient psychiatric hospitals from applying for mortgage assistance. Currently, these hospitals are the only type of health care facility prevented from accessing mortgage assistance through the Section 242 program.  

A transcript of Emmer’s questioning is below:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, really appreciate you holding this important hearing today and thank you, Secretary Fudge, for joining us as we conduct oversight of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Young Americans are experiencing a mental health crisis greater than we've ever seen in the history of this country. Madam Secretary, under your leadership, is it a priority of HUD to implement policies that expand access to mental health services across the country?

Is it our what?

Is it one of your priorities to implement policies that expand access to mental health care?

No, but we do. What we do is provide resources for housing for the disabled which includes mental illness. 

Alright, great. That is where I was going, because it's a priority of mine as well. And Madam Secretary, briefly, what has HUD, under your leadership, done to accomplish this priority?

One of the things we’ve done even in this last budget is to put more resources into our programs to build housing for the disabled. Because what we have found is, just like with senior housing, we don’t have enough of it, and we certainly don’t have enough housing for the disabled.

One of the things you are doing is HUD is training housing counselors in basic mental health skills. I am pleased to say HUD is raising mental health awareness through a new educational campaign on housing discrimination faced by people with mental health issues, which plays into what you were talking about, which is great. Do you think there's more HUD can be doing?

Well, I don’t know that there is, but I am certainly open to suggestions because it is a major problem in this country. Not only just mental health in the terms that most of us think about it but large numbers of people who sleep on our streets have mental illness as well.

Yeah. Madam Secretary, are you familiar with the Securing Facilities for Mental Health Services Act? It's a bipartisan bill I've been working on with Congressman Ritchie Torres the past several years.

I am not.  

As you know, Section 242 of the National Housing Act currently restricts psychiatric inpatient hospitals from applying for mortgage assistance through HUD. This contributes to a shortage of beds for patients seeking mental health treatment, and, due to the mental health crisis we face, those in need are not receiving the mental health care they need.

Madam Secretary, do you support efforts to allow psychiatric inpatient hospitals to receive mortgage assistance through your agency?

Certainly, I mean I think we need to do a lot more. I mean part of the problem with beds now is the Medicare formula. Which back in the day, 50, 60 years ago, decided that we would not allow more beds for mental illness because they “did not want to house the mentally ill” so there are a number of issues that I think we need to address but I am all for it.

Fantastic, and that's great to hear. Because the Securing Facilities for Mental Health Services Act does just that. So I look forward to working with you.  Unfortunately, last Congress, your staff, and I don’t know that you know this, told the Democrat leadership on this Committee that the bill would be difficult for HUD to implement and we should forgo marking this bill up and conduct a study on it instead. Secretary Fudge, with respect, it simply does not make sense, and again this is staff, this was not you, so I don’t expect that you’re personally aware of it, but it simply doesn’t make sense to compromise helping people who have high risk medical needs because of the red tape involved in making the change. And I take it from our discussion today that you would agree with that.

I am not aware of it, and I will check to find out what that was.

Great, and I have correspondence if it would be helpful. We asked the Government Accountability Office or the GAO to study the potential pros and cons of such a change, and it observed that there are no structural obstacles to have the Federal Housing Administration insure psychiatric inpatient hospitals. The forthcoming GAO report, due in the next few weeks, also outlines some practices to consider incorporating to reduce any new risks. In a good faith effort to work with your agency and produce effective legislation, I'd like to give you the chance to describe to this Committee the challenges that you think HUD might face, and if there are none that come to mind we can certainly continue this discussion, but that HUD might, that maybe your staff was referring to, that HUD might face as obstacles to implementing something this.

The only major problems that we have is of course when you have populations that have emotional or mental issues, you need the proper kinds of staff and kinds of people who are trained to do the work. That would be the only impediment that I could see. But this is the same problem we are having now with assisted living facilities etc. We need a trained workforce to do the work.

Thank you, Secretary Fudge. I look forward to working with you and your Department on making an important change here and I yield back.

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