WASHINGTON (DC News Now) — DC Councilmember At-Large Robert White is set to re-introduce a bill that would allow DC residents and employees to get a master’s degree in social work or counseling absolutely free at a local university.

“I always say there are two kinds of people: there are people who know they need mental health support and people who need mental health support but don’t know it. We all need it. “

DC Councilmember At-Large Robert White

He sat down exclusively with DC News Now to talk about the bill, named the “Pathways to Behavioral Health Degrees Act.” This would allow people with Bachelor’s degrees to get their Master’s in Social Work or Counseling from the University of the District of Columbia. The bill would also include a stipend for housing and books.

“We’re never going to go back in time where we had fewer mental health professionals, there’s going to be increased demand and we want to make sure we’re keeping pace by creating a pipeline,” Councilmember White explained.

He also explained that many incidents of violence across the District could stem from the lack of mental health resources that would help people work through conflict negotiation skills and healthier coping mechanisms.

“When we see violence erupting from things that are so petty from a lack of conflict negotiation skills from traumas that are deep-rooted and need some space and some healing,” White explained. “Just like any other physical medical injury in people, these young people don’t have resources that this trauma comes out in unhealthy ways.”

White also recalled what he saw at the funeral for 13-year-old Karon Blake, who was shot and killed in Brookland.

“I saw scores of young people in deep pain and mourning and the question I kept asking myself is, ‘Where are these young people going to take that pain to help resolve it? Right now, there are just not enough spaces for that,'” White said.

The bill had widespread support from the Council last year, but it did not pass before the end of the session. If it does pass, UDC will start offering the free Master’s program in the spring of 2024. Over four years, the program will cost the District $6 million.

The program would be open not only to DC residents but also to those who commute into the District to work.

Currently, there is no language in the bill that would require people to work in the District, but White explained there may be a move to encourage or require this.

He acknowledged the nationwide need for mental health resources and providers. He hopes this bill will not only pass but serve as a model for other cities and jurisdictions across the country.

White also highlighted that the District is in need of mental health providers in the public school system. He explained that when he checked earlier this month, DCPS had 104 open mental health positions. This is why he also wants to potentially expand this program to high school students to pursue Bachelor’s degrees and then Master’s degrees to meet the need.