A newly introduced bill would offer a total of $37,000 in stipends to bring in and retain more professionals in behavioral health care amid shortages throughout the state.
On Wednesday, Sen. Scott Wiener introduced Senate Bill 964, the Behavioral Health Workforce Revitalization Act, which offers stipends to students pursuing a master's degree in social work with a specialized focus on public behavioral health. If passed, the bill would also create a state fund to increase pay and provide bonuses for professionals already in the field.
Under SB 964, a student would be eligible for a stipend of $18,500 per year for up to two calendar years if specified conditions. This bill would also establish the Behavioral Health Workforce Preservation and Restoration Fund as a fund in California's treasury, to be administered by the department to stabilize the current licensed clinical behavioral health workforce.
Under SB 964, California Community Colleges, the California State University, and the University of California could be required to offer accelerated programs of study related to degrees in social work. The bill would require one program to offer a concurrent bachelor's and master's of social work that would allow students to combine their last one or two years of undergraduate study with their graduate study to complete both programs at an accelerated rate.
A second accelerated academic program would be required in which students with experience as peer support specialists, community health workers, or psychiatric technicians could receive their associate’s degree, as well as a bachelor’s and master’s degree in social work. Both programs would require a student to take a course on working with the severely mentally ill, with a focus on working in the public behavioral health system.
Under the bill, the University of California will be requested to enter a contract with the department to prepare a report for the Legislature by January 1, 2024, to provide a landscape analysis of the current behavioral health workforce and the state’s behavioral health workforce needs, and makes recommendations on how to address the state’s behavioral health workforce shortage.
This bill would require the Department of Health Care Access and Information to develop an online jobs board on which licensed public, private, and nonprofit behavioral health providers and facilities in the state may post job openings for behavioral health workers.
According to Wiener, the bill is an attempt to address staffing shortages that resulted in delayed mental health treatment and long wait times further exacerbated by the pandemic.
“Before the pandemic, there was a huge need for mental health services, and people were struggling to access services, but the pandemic has poured lighter fluid on our mental health challenges,” Wiener said. “The stress, anxiety, and trauma of the pandemic have impacted so many people, particularly kids.”