Senator Wiener’s Mental Health Workforce Legislation Clears Final Legislative Hurdle, Heads to Governor’s Desk

August 22, 2022

SACRAMENTO - Today, Senator Scott Wiener’s (D-San Francisco) Senate Bill 964, the Behavioral Health Workforce Revitalization Act, passed the Senate in a unanimous, 40-0 concurrence vote. It will now head to Governor Gavin Newsom’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.

“Behavioral health workers have some of the hardest – and most critically important – jobs there are,” said Senator Wiener. “Right now, these workers are underpaid and overworked. Many are leaving their jobs altogether because it’s unsustainable. SB 964 will help us understand how we can keep these important workers in the field for the duration of their careers, and how we can support them overall.”

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.