Bill to support unemployed Coloradans’ mental health passes committee

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DENVER (April 26, 2021) — Today, the Colorado Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted unanimously to advance a bill that would expand 2-1-1 Colorado’s services in partnership with Mile High United Way to assist unemployed Coloradans statewide in accessing or enrolling in their behavioral health benefits and connecting with resources. 

The bill, Senate Bill 21-239, will provide $1 million in funding to the Colorado Department of Human Services, Office of Behavioral Health (OBH) to contract with 2-1-1 Colorado to hire and train staff to help Coloradans understand behavioral health benefits, how to access behavioral health services through their benefits, and receive referrals for other necessary services, such as housing and food support. 2-1-1 Colorado is a confidential and multilingual service that assists people across the state with navigating more than 7,500 health and human service resources. Services are available in all 64 counties.

“We know people who have lost employment during the pandemic are experiencing mental health impacts, and it can be especially hard to navigate what behavioral health resources are available to you while you’re unemployed,” said OBH Director Robert Werthwein. “Studies have shown that job loss can trigger significant mental health concerns, including suicidal thoughts. By ensuring unemployed Coloradans can connect to behavioral health benefits and services, this bill will provide more support among those who need it most in our state.”

The bill moves to the Senate Appropriations Committee as Colorado contends with worrisome trends brought on by COVID-19. In 2020, Colorado saw the most calls ever to the state’s Colorado Crisis Services line and a record number of overdose deaths. The pandemic has also produced record unemployment in Colorado, and the state’s unemployment rate remains twice as high as it was pre-pandemic.

“We have been incredibly proud to serve our community this year,” said Christine Benero, president and CEO of Mile High United Way. “Through our personal interactions in the call center, we know how incredibly difficult this year has been for so many individuals and families. We are grateful for this much needed support that will provide relief to so many Coloradans.”

Part of the $1 million appropriation in SB 239 would be used to market the new service to unemployed Coloradans as well as Coloradans of color and LGBTQ+ Coloradans, who have historically faced barriers in accessing behavioral health care. If passed, funding for the program will be available through June 2022.

In 2020, 2-1-1 Colorado received more than 182,000 contacts, including calls, chats, texts and emails, and nearly 457,000 online database searches. 

The proposal comes as Colorado prepares for Mental Health Awareness Month, a campaign that aims to destigmatize conversations about mental health and support those living with a mental health condition. To kick off programming, CDHS executive director Michelle Barnes will participate in Mental Health Colorado’s Proclamation Day event on Monday, May 3, at 10 a.m. To watch the event, visit the Mental Health Colorado website


About Mile High United Way 
Mile High United Way, the first United Way in the world, was founded in Denver in 1887. Working side-by-side with the community, Mile High United Way takes on critical human services issues facing our seven-county footprint including the metro Denver, Boulder and Broomfield communities. Our united approach changes the odds for all children, families, and individuals in our community, so that we all have the opportunity to succeed. Learn more at or follow us @UnitedWayDenver 

About 2-1-1 Colorado
2-1-1 Colorado is a confidential and multilingual service that connects callers to critical resources. Serving all Colorado communities, anyone in our state can call and get connected to the best and closest resources. Individuals and families can dial 2-1-1 or visit to search our online database or connect with a resource navigator via phone, text or chat. 

Media contact:
Madlynn Ruble
Deputy Director of Communications