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A mental-health program for farmers that was created more than a decade ago but left unfunded is scheduled to complete its first round of grantmaking by September 30.
Applications for the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network are due tomorrow (July 25, 2019). The program will distribute $2 million in competitive awards to develop mental health resources for farmers and farmworkers. Networks of state agricultural departments, tribal governments, nonprofits and extension educators are eligible to apply.
“You could just see him progressively go downhill.”
A farmer’s wife tells her story to help other families experiencing difficult times.
Congress first approved the assistance network in the 2008 farm bill. Funding for the program is discretionary, meaning Congress must take a separate action to appropriate money to launch the program. Congress left the program unfunded for 10 years. The compromise agreement that reopened the federal government in February 2019 included the $2 million appropriation, which has been described as a “pilot program.”
The current 2020 House budget includes $10 million for the program. The Senate has yet to take up any budget legislation for 2020.
Matt Perdue, government relations manager for National Farmers Union, said his organization is grateful for USDA’s quick approach to tackling farmer mental health concerns once funding got approved.
“We see FRSAN as being a key part of helping us build more supportive rural communities,” he said. “You look around at small town America, at farm country, from the farmers to the implement dealers to the repair shop. From the grain elevators to the agronomists, what we look far too often is taking care of the most important asset, and that’s the farmers themselves.”
Perdue called FRSAN a “positive step” toward improving the mental health of farmers.
“We think that once this program gets up and running and fully functioning, it will fill a key need for mental health services and support,” he said.
Perdue added that he hasn’t heard any direct opposition to FRSAN, but that the annual congressional budget and appropriations process often leaves important discretionary programs at risk.
“Everyone understands that mental health services for farmers is an important need, and that we have serious gap in our rural communities that Congress can fill with this funding,” he said.
While hotlines don’t address the financial and legal stress caused by historically low farm incomes, they are an important first step to addressing the mental health consequences, according to Fahy.
“Paying attention to the whole health of farmers is essential to guaranteeing a healthy farm and food system,” said Jennifer Fahy of Farm Aid, a nonprofit organization that supports family farmers and farm communities.