Nebraskans should be very proud of the progress our state has made in transforming mental health services. We are now looked upon as a national leader in this area. I am very pleased to have introduced a bill that would adjust our nation's policies to follow Nebraska's good example by helping those facing mental illnesses, as well as the physically and developmentally disabled, to access affordable housing. For them, the move to an apartment is an important part of gaining independence and contributing to our communities.
The Frank Melville Act, which I introduced with Democrat Senator Bob Menendez, is a good first step in reforming how housing is constructed, streamlined, and prioritized for this deserving population. I was proud to participate in a hearing on this important bill last week to highlight how it translates ideas at the local level translate into good policy at the national level.
As Governor, I initiated several programs to improve the lives of those with mental and physical disabilities. In fact, it's a big reason for my initial interest in public service. We implemented real reform that increased the number of people receiving mental health services within their communities and increased the chances for these citizens to achieve recovery and participate in their communities.
One aspect of the transformation in Nebraska has been a flexible rental assistance program. It can be an invaluable tool in providing affordable housing opportunities for low-income people with disabilities. My bill would mirror this improvement at the national level by giving greater control of housing and voucher programs to state agencies. Currently, the Department of Housing and Urban Development is in charge, which many believe has caused a backlog, bureaucratic red tape, and long waiting lists. This change would allow state agencies to better respond to and meet the needs of their citizens.
The Melville Act would also increase the number of available housing units built for those with disabilities and mental illnesses. Aside from simply creating more space for these citizens, it would emphasize the idea of community by creating an entirely new category for integrated multifamily projects. Condominiums and other residential communities do far more than simply provide a roof and windows. They provide neighbors, friends, projects and activities--the opportunity to interact with others.
Last weekend, it was my privilege to address hundreds of mental health consumers at a national conference held in Omaha. They gathered in Nebraska because our state rejected tired old stereotypes and embraced the advances of medicine when we modernized mental health services. It was inspiring to see the familiar faces of some of the very people who fought to get that reform across the finish line -- now organizing conferences and leading discussions. It highlighted for me how important it is for us to provide this deserving population with opportunities to contribute to their communities. The Frank Melville Act opens new doors, and I'm proud to support it.