California’s budget deficit puts momentum to rebuild California’s behavioral health workforce at risk

It’s vital that investments in recruitment and retention are protected

With an immediate and short-term deficit, California faces a challenging budget landscape. Despite Governor Gavin Newsom and Legislative leaders’ efforts to  build the state’s rainy-day fund and reduce the scale of the deficit, policy leaders face difficult choices in the weeks ahead.

Under the Governor’s leadership, this administration has continuously affirmed that bolstering mental health is critical to improving the well-being of all Californians. From the California Youth Behavioral Health Initiative to the recently passed Behavioral Health Services Act, our state has invested more into the modernization of our behavioral health system than any other state. We are in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime transformation of our behavioral health system that has the potential to ensure everyone gets the care they need and deserve.

The success of this transformation depends on having a strong workforce to carry out these ambitious initiatives. Unfortunately, California is already facing a devastating behavioral health workforce shortage. We estimate that California will need to add approximately 375,000 behavioral health providers in the next 10 years to meet the current and future demand for services.

Given the behavioral health workforce shortage and the tremendous work that lies ahead to carry out the statewide transformation of California’s behavioral health system, we are concerned about the proposed elimination of over $1 billion in health workforce funding. These dollars fund pipeline and recruitment programs that will take years to fully impact the workforce. Cutting them now will have a lasting impact that will put us a decade behind in closing the behavioral health workforce shortage and completing the state’s behavioral health transformation.

“California will ultimately emerge from this budget deficit, and brighter days are ahead,” said Steinberg Institute CEO Karen Larsen. “But when the state does get past this budget challenge, we must ensure that we haven’t lost so much ground that we have reversed the progress we’ve worked so hard to make.“

In addition to reducing homelessness, incarceration and hospitalization for people with behavioral health challenges by half, rebuilding a behavioral health workforce is one of the Steinberg Institute’s Vision 2030 goals.

We look forward to partnering with state leaders and community stakeholders to ensure that California continues to provide comprehensive and effective behavioral health care for all, despite our state’s fiscal challenges. Together, we can find solutions that uphold our commitment to serving those living with behavioral health conditions and build a resilient safety net for the future.

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