Senator Wiener’s Mental Health Workforce Legislation Passes Assembly

August 18, 2022

SACRAMENTO - Today, Senator Scott Wiener’s (D-San Francisco) Senate Bill 964, the Behavioral Health Workforce Revitalization Act, passed the Assembly in a bipartisan 60-0 vote. It will now go to the Senate for final sign off before heading to the Governor’s desk.

Parts of SB 964 — $126 million to support the expansion of social worker training programs, $50 million for additional slots for Addiction Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine fellowship programs, and $10.6 million to the California State Loan Repayment Program to increase the number of awards granted to primary care and behavioral health providers — were passed as part of the state budget. The remaining provisions of the bill require a long overdue analysis of California’s behavioral health licensing requirements, to help eliminate unnecessary bureaucratic barriers to well-trained and talented workers from entering the field and working at the top of their scope. Additionally, SB 964 requires a comprehensive landscape analysis of the behavioral health workforce.

“Many mental health workers are burned out, underpaid, or both,” said Senator Wiener. “These workers could not be more important for the future of our state. They help our vulnerable Californians who struggle with mental illness and addiction. It’s a difficult job, and we need to support these workers. SB 964 will allow us to get a better sense of how we can do that, and where the roadblocks are that keep behavioral health workers from staying in the field.”

Currently, only one-third of Californians who live with a mental illness receive the care they need. One of the largest drivers of this failure is a shortage of behavioral healthcare workers. Today, 31 California counties in “high need” for mental health services report having a workforce shortage.

With healthcare workers resigning in droves and mental health needs skyrocketing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the behavioral health workforce shortage has gone from challenge to crisis. Even with the increase in need for quality mental health and addiction treatment, facilities across the state are closing due to worker shortages. When workers can instead, for example, become traveling nurses and receive a $100,000 signing bonus, it becomes even more difficult for hospitals and other facilities to retain staff. And without essential behavioral health workers providing this important care, people with mild mental health symptoms can fall into severe mental illness.

Those in rural, linguistically and ethnically diverse, and LGBTQ+ communities are severely underserved when it comes to all health care, and this is especially true of mental health care. And those suffering from severe mental illness are often forced to cycle between hospital emergency rooms, jails and city streets because of a lack of mental health care workers and resources.

SB 964 is sponsored by the Steinberg Institute. Senators Henry Stern (D-Los Angeles) and Anna Caballero (D-Merced) are principal co-authors of SB 964, and Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa) is a co-author. Assemblymembers Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda), Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale), Adam Gray (D-Merced), Marc Levine (D-Marin County), Mike Gipson (D-Carson), and Marie Waldron (R-Escondido) are co-authors.