The Steinberg Institute applauds California Governor Gavin Newsom and lawmakers for critical investments that will save lives

(Sacramento) On Monday Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 154 – Budget Act of 2022. The Steinberg Institute commends state leaders for their continued commitment to mental health and substance use disorder needs. The budget includes investments to address the state’s severe behavioral health workforce shortage, launch the new 988 suicide and crisis line, and provide bridge housing for people experiencing homelessness with serious mental illness.

Critically important is a significant investment in the behavioral health workforce, part of the Workforce for a Healthy California for All Program, with more than $1 billion in funding for rebuilding the overall healthcare workforce. The budget includes investments across the continuum, including funding for community health workers, psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychiatric nurses; along with training for providers to build out the substance use disorder workforce with a focus on opioid treatment.

Social work training programs, stipends, and scholarships to create a new pipeline for diverse social workers will also receive much needed funding in this budget. Given the historically low pay these professionals receive, these programs are an effective way to keep folks working in our behavioral health system. For example, the California Social Work Education Center’s stipend program funded by the Mental Health Services Act offered students $18,500 for their second year of instruction in exchange for one year of service in California’s public behavioral health system, and more than half of these stipend graduates were still employed up to 13 years post-graduation.

“The workforce shortage is a serious challenge facing our mental health and substance use treatment systems in California,” said Steinberg Institute CEO, Karen Larsen. “People who are suffering need to be able to get treatment, and right now there just aren’t enough people in our behavioral health workforce to meet their needs. These investments come at a critical time.”

In response to the workforce crisis, the Steinberg Institute created the Legislative Behavioral Health Workforce Strategy Group in the fall of 2021, made up of legislative leaders who have identified mental health and the correlating workforce shortage as a top priority. Legislators and staff heard ideas from national experts that would serve to rebuild the behavioral health workforce and begin to turn the tide for Californians who are currently not getting the care they need. The outcome of this work resulted in an omnibus bill, SB 964, The Future of California Workforce and Surge in Behavioral Health Initiative or “FOCWS-BH” (pronounced Focus-BH) by Senator Scott Wiener of San Francisco. This bill establishes a Behavioral Health Workforce Preservation and Restoration Fund to provide hiring and/or performance-based bonuses, salary augmentation, overtime pay, and/or hazard pay.

We also applaud critical investments in the new national 988 suicide and crisis line, as the state prepares for its launch on July 16.  With $8 million in one-time funding there is now support for startup costs for the Suicide Prevention Lifeline Call Centers, which are expecting a significant increase in calls, as well as $7.5 million for one-time start-up funding and $6 million in ongoing funding for California’s Office of Emergency Services to implement the technical components of 988 and 911-988 connections and a statewide mobile crisis team Medi-Cal benefit.

With this solid foundation, the Steinberg Institute will continue to push to ensure the full potential of 988 is realized. As sponsors of AB 988, the Miles Hall Lifeline and Suicide Prevention Act authored by Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan of San Ramon, we are working to guarantee the proper implementation and ongoing funding of 988 in California. This new number has the potential to transform crisis response in California, including mobile responders trained to handle mental health crises. We will continue to advocate for the necessary funding and framework to fully implement 988.

The budget also includes $1.5 billion over two years for immediate, clinically enhanced bridge housing solutions for individuals experiencing homelessness with serious mental illness. An estimated 55,000+ of our neighbors experiencing homelessness live with an untreated serious mental illness.

“There’s no question that Governor Newsom and the legislature recognize the immediate mental health and substance abuse needs facing our state,” said Steinberg Institute founder Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg. “Investing in our workforce, crisis response and housing will significantly improve the state’s system of care. There’s still much more work to do, and we’re committed to partnering with leaders to ensure all Californians get the care they deserve.”

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