California Budget Debate Snagged on Mental Health Funding
Lawmakers and mental health advocates said they would sue the state to block the adoption of a proposal under consideration by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) that would eliminate state funding for a mental health program for homeless people, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The Integrated Services for Homeless Adults With Serious Mental Illnesses program provides housing, substance abuse treatment, job training and education services, as well as medical care. The state provides $55 million to 34 counties for the program.
Schwarzenegger has proposed cutting funding for the program to help address a $3 billion state budget deficit, but mental health advocates and some state lawmakers argue that the move would violate provisions of Proposition 63, a 2004 ballot measure to fund mental health care services.
Under Proposition 63, the state is barred from reducing funding for mental health care services below 2004 levels, and counties are prohibited from using money from the ballot initiative to fund existing programs.
However, state officials maintain that eliminating state funding for the program would not breach the terms of the ballot initiative because funding increases in other programs would keep overall state mental health care spending above 2004 levels.
State officials suggest that counties use funds from Proposition 63 to create similar programs, but advocates warn that current beneficiaries of the program would be hurt while counties seek approval to get such funding and start new programs.
Sen. Darrel Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said he hoped that Democratic lawmakers would block any state budget agreement that would cut funding for the program.
The National Mental Health Association of Greater Los Angeles says that since it launched the pilot program in 1999, program participants have experienced:
- 162% more days of employment;
- 81% fewer days of incarceration;
- 76% fewer days of homelessness; and
- 65% fewer days of psychiatric hospitalizations (Romney/Gold, Los Angeles Times, 7/14).