Conference committee agreements would bolster mental health care

The budget before the Legislature would strengthen services. But there’s more work to be done.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, June 12, 2017.

CONTACT: Adrienne Shilton, Government Affairs Director,  

SACRAMENTO, CA – California legislative leaders have approved a revised proposal for the state’s 2017-18 budget that contains key funding and policy improvements for our mental health care system.  The Joint Legislative Conference Committee approved a budget agreement last week that now goes before the full Legislature. The Steinberg Institute has worked closely with legislators and staff throughout the process to advocate for the most vulnerable among us, and is thrilled with many of the provisions.

“Few issues intersect with virtually every major budget and policy area addressed by government in the way that mental health does,” said Darrell Steinberg, who founded the Steinberg Institute and now serves as mayor of Sacramento. “Now, more than ever, we must maintain our focus and move our mental health system from a fail-first to a care-first model.”

To this end, the Steinberg Institute team has advocated on a range of proposals that focus on suicide prevention; children’s crisis services; data collection and outcomes analyses of programs that serve children; and fiscal transparency of the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA).

Among the highlights in the conference committee budget agreement:

  • $4.5 million to support student mental health services at California community colleges.
  • $16.7 million to restore full funding for the children’s mental health crisis continuum.
  • $6.2 million to fund a longstanding state mandate requiring the Department of Health Care Services to collect data on outcomes for children and youth up to age 21 who are receiving mental health services through Medi-Cal.
  • $4.3 million to expand services at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline hotline, including development of best practices, and the provision of services in multiple languages.
  • Policy clarity regarding funds that counties have been awarded via the 2004 Mental Health Services Act (MHSA), but have failed to spend in the time frame laid out by statute. This trailer bill offers one-time forgiveness for past unspent funds, if counties commit to spending the money on specified programs in a timely manner, and it sets up a process for how unspent funds will be redistributed going forward.

We are pleased with many of the hard-won provisions, but reiterate our call that there is more work to be done.  The budget agreement retains a painful cut to mental health services, as part of a complex funding shift to infuse more money into the state’s In-Home Supportive Services program.  Under the proposal, the total loss to mental health programs over five years is $110.5 million. While we support the need for IHSS services, we strongly object to the state making that system whole at the expense of mental health.

“Even as the landmark MHSA has injected much-needed money into the mental health care system, bringing life-changing services to tens of thousands of people, the need for crisis care and early intervention programs remains great,” said Steinberg Institute Executive Director Maggie Merritt. “We simply can’t make major strides forward if we are battling damaging cuts and funding maneuvers year after year.”

An estimated one in four families in California are dealing with some aspect of mental illness, making this the under-attended public policy issue of our time. We wouldn’t impede a diabetic’s ability to access insulin, and we certainly do not want to inhibit the ability of our sons and daughters to access the care they need.

We also see a gap in access to mental health services at California’s institutions of higher education that was not adequately addressed in the budget agreement. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college students, claiming more than 200 lives every year in California.  California public college campuses do not meet national staffing standards for psychiatric services and other mental health professionals.  Community colleges receive funding in this budget, but no funding was directed to the California State University or University of California systems, leaving their students at critical and unnecessary risk. We will continue to advocate for the support they need to succeed.

Now is the time to build a comprehensive agenda for California that weaves an integrated system of care, one that ensures brain health is treated as comprehensively and readily as physical health.

The Steinberg Institute is a Sacramento-based nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing sound public policy and inspiring leadership on issues of mental health.




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