On April 14th, 2021, the Department of Labor (DOL) selected seven states to participate in a mental health initiative. The Advancing State Policy Integration for Recovery and Employment (ASPIRE) initiative would increase employment for individuals with mental health conditions. That is to say; the initiative would align state policy and funding to raise the employment rate of affected individuals. In early April, the DOL released a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document on updates to mental health regulations. Specifically, the FAQ focuses on updates to the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) that affect employers.

Overview of Initiative

Administered by the DOL’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, the mental health initiative provides selected states with targeted technical assistance. The states of Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Wisconsin are the states included in this initial run. This assistance provides expertise to help each of those states create and implement state strategic plans. Accordingly, those plans would encompass multiple systems, including:

  • mental/behavioral health,
  • Medicaid,
  • vocational rehabilitation, and
  • workforce and education.

Accordingly, the states will develop and implement their strategic plans in consultation with their state’s critical mental health advocacy organizations.

In addition to supporting states, ASPIRE will provide a forum for knowledge-sharing between states and federal agencies. Mental health service providers and other stakeholders can also share policies and practices to implement supported employment models. As dictated by the mental health initiative, those models would increase competitive integrated employment for people with mental health conditions. In other words, “competitive integrated employment” is work in settings where most employees have no disabilities. Those employees are also paid directly at the minimum or prevailing wage.

The ODEP has contracted with Westat, a Rockville, Maryland research firm, to deliver the technical assistance to participating states. A website is available for the ASPIRE initiative but is currently still in the demo phase. The ASPIRE site includes links to websites with relevant resources for affected employers and initiative contact information. In conclusion, the ODEP will release additional details about ASPIRE on an as-needed basis.