$100 million allocated by Pennsylvania legislature for mental health needs likely won't be spent this year

$100 million allocated by Pennsylvania legislature for mental health needs likely won’t be spent this year

The Pennsylvania General Assembly allocated $100 million in this year’s budget to address mental health needs and appointed a 24-member commission to recommend how one-time federal funds should be allocated and spent.

But it appears that potential disagreements over the committee’s recommendations, combined with the few remaining days of the legislature to act this session, mean that the millions of dollars allocated are unlikely to be sent out this year.

The House has only three sitting days left this year; the Senate has one. All are in mid-November, after the November 8 general election. New lawmakers will take office in January, along with a new governor.

Lack of prompt action sparked advocacy complaints and local government groups that would have received the funds to meet mental health needs, which have increased since the pandemic.

Having millions of dollars delayed is “incredibly disappointing,” said Lisa Schaefer, executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania. Counties hope to use the funds for things like depression and anxiety, suicide prevention programs, programs to divert people with serious mental health needs from prisons, and more, she said. .

Addressing adult mental health “remains a priority,” said Erica Clayton Wright, spokeswoman for the Senate Republican caucus. Republicans are the majority party in both the State House and the Senate.

However, she said, the caucus must review the recommendations through its committee process. She did not cite specific disagreements with what the commission recommended, but said, “These are recommendations, so we need to look at those recommendations as well and consider others.”

The commission met four times in August and September and published a report in early October.

Among his recommendations:

  • $37 million is expected to be used to support behavioral health workers as professionals have left the field and it is difficult to fill vacancies. “In some cases, fast food restaurants and other unskilled labor positions may offer more competitive wages and better benefits for less emotionally demanding work. Pennsylvanians need more professional behavioral health resources,” the commission said.
  • $23.5 million to better serve adults with behavioral health needs in the criminal justice system
  • $39 million will be used to expand the reach of services and supports available to Pennsylvanians
  • $500,000 to study the impact of projects supported by these one-time funds

Among the most pressing needs identified was workforce support.
“Maybe we have initiatives that could … put a counselor in every school or a counselor in every emergency room so that we have people available, trained and ready to help. But the problem is we don’t have the people. So we really had to focus on that,” said State Senator Maria Collette, a Montgomery County Democrat who served on the commission.

When the commission presented its recommendations earlier this month on how best to spend the funds, it urged lawmakers to act quickly.

“The Commission wishes to stress the importance of prompt action and calls for the funding authorized under this year’s budget to be allocated before the end of this legislative session,” its authors said.

“I am disappointed that we are in this place where we – the commission – have done their job,” Collette said. “We met, we discussed the needs and we really wrote a report and recommendations that will ensure that $100 million is really better allocated. We have done the job that we had to do, and now it is really up to the legislature, to the General Assembly, to do the job that is asked of it to cross the finish line. And I’m disappointed that we’re here on our second-to-last day scheduled for the Senate session, and that’s not an action we’re taking,” she said Wednesday.

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The commission also recommended that state legislators consider increasing the amount of funding for county mental health. The committee noted that in 2012, this base funding was reduced by 10% and has not increased since.

“The need for behavioral health services has increased sharply since the onset of the COVID pandemic in 2020, and while utilization is higher, funding for services has remained stagnant, forcing counties to do more with less. … The Commission urges the Legislature to align base county funding with the cost associated with providing these essential behavioral health services,” she noted in her report.

Still, several commission members said they hoped the funds could be disbursed early next year.

“We are of course disappointed that it seems there will not be enough time to enact legislation before the end of the year; however, we are optimistic that this investment remains a priority for all parties,” the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania said in a statement.

State Rep. Mike Schlossberg, a Democrat from Lehigh Valley who served on the commission, said he was disappointed with the delay but is confident funds will eventually be sent to address mental health needs.

“The hardest part, I think, was getting the money. The money has been allocated and we just have to work out the details. And if it has to be done at the next session… [it’s] far from ideal, but so be it,” he said.

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