The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act: Mental Health Wins Undermined for Black and Brown Youth

By Isha Weerasinghe, Kayla Tawa, and Emily Kim

Passed in June 2022, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) came at a time in our country when legislation on both mental health and gun violence prevention was overdue. While generally upheld as a major legislative victory that expands federal investments in mental health supports, the BSCA also includes a series of provisions that will disproportionately harm the mental health of young people who are Black, brown, disabled, low income, and LGBTQIA+.

The BSCA makes significant and much-needed investments in young people’s mental health. The law includes investments in school-based health such as provisions that direct the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to update guidance for claiming services provided in schools under Medicaid, establish a technical assistance center, and invest in youth-focused mental health funding streams and the mental health workforce.

However, the BSCA simultaneously bolsters carceral systems that harm young people. For example, the law invests in school-hardening measures that fuel the school-to-prison pipeline by expanding police presence in schools through leveraging new technologies and data-sharing techniques with school systems and social service agencies. School-hardening measures create hostile learning environments and lead to increased anxiety and mistrust for students.

Two of the law’s aims directly contradict each other. The school-hardening measures will exacerbate the youth mental health crisis that the act simultaneously attempts to address.

To truly invest in the mental health of young people, policymakers must center the needs and experiences of young people—especially those who are Black, brown, LGBTQIA+, low income, and disabled—and create a mental health system that achieves these young people’s vision of healing and wellbeing. It does not matter how many services schools and communities offer if they are not the services young people want and trust. This includes healing-based approaches and culturally sensitive care. People most trusted by young people—whether based in community-based organizations, health facilities, or faith-based organizations—need the tools, supports, and funding to meet youth where they are.

Despite the shortcomings of the law, states and localities can and should take advantage of the mental health provisions, focusing on equity-centered implementation at the state and local level.

This brief provides an overview of the key mental health provisions in the act, gives a timeline of expected implementation, and offers recommendations for mental health policies that center equity. For a full analysis of the school-hardening and other justice-focused provisions of the act, read our sister brief The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act: A Dangerous New Chapter in the War on Black Youth.

>> Read the full brief here