Queens lawmaker pushes for increased funding for mental health professionals in public schools

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Assemblywoman Jessica González-Rojas, along with other lawmakers and advocates, are calling on the state Legislature to increase funding for mental health professionals in the 2022 Executive Budget. 

As the U.S. surgeon general issued an advisory on youth mental health amid the COVID-19 crisis, legislators have doubled their call for increased funding. Bill S1969/A5019, sponsored by González-Rojas, would allocate a social worker and psychologist to every school district. Currently, there are schools that don’t have even one mental health professional.

González-Rojas said this issue is personal for her.

As a mom of school-aged children in Jackson Heights, the assemblywoman said she wants all children to be able to get the help they need as they struggle with the isolation that comes with the pandemic. 

“I want our children to be healthy as they learn in our schools and that they can get the help they need as they struggle with the isolation that the pandemic has caused, as well as other issues like racial inequity that are more clear than ever in our borough and in our state,” González-Rojas said. “But this issue should be important to all of us who want our children to be well. As we know it takes a village to raise our children and this will help us do that more.”

Last year, the assemblywoman started touring schools in her district, asking principals and staff what they thought the greatest needs were. González-Rojas said that many expressed concern about the mental health of their students. 

“This is consistent with the federal government and national groups declaring a youth mental health crisis across our country with an increase in suicidal ideation and symptoms of depression and anxiety among our young people,” she said. “Increasing the number of social workers and psychologists in school districts across the city and state will help us to ensure students are assessed and provided with mental health services to support them.”

Advocates and lawmakers are hopeful that these measures will be put into place after Governor Hochul announced a $2.1 billion funding increase for schools. 

“We will continue to build support as we head towards the budget deadline in April so that the staffing is funding and the legislation passes,” González-Rojas said. 

New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta said that students thrive academically so long as their social and emotional needs can be met. 

“Every district needs proper staffing not only to get a handle on the current mental health crisis among our students but also to provide the proactive support necessary to make sure every student is ready to learn,” Pallotta said.