The decision to include $100 million in mental health funding in this year’s state budget was a sign of help on the horizon for Pennsylvania counties and their mental health service providers.
But those agencies, which are struggling to meet the demand for mental health care in the wake of the pandemic and the current opioid crisis, will have to wait at least a few more months before they see the money.
The General Assembly left town Wednesday for an election day break Wednesday without passing a spending plan for the money, which from the Commonwealth’s share of US bailout funding included in the $45.2 billion budget.
Lawmakers involved in the process of crafting recommendations on how to spend the money say they are disappointed that their colleagues have not reached consensus on how to distribute it.
“In my opinion, it was because it was not a priority when it should have been, no doubt,” said State Senator Maria Collett, D-Montgomery.
Although a handful of voting days are on the schedule in November, House Democrats have faulted Republican leaders for not addressing the issue, which will not be resumed until January at the earliest, when a new legislative session will begin.
“Unfortunately, Republicans’ failure to prioritize this measure perpetuates the effects of chronic underfunding of mental health and mental illness programs in Pennsylvania and delays the flow of funds to entities that need them,” the House Democratic caucus said in a statement.
Jason Gottesman, spokesman for House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Center, said House Republicans worked with other caucuses and Gov. Tom Wolf’s office to assess a report on the needs in mental health care and prepare a bill for a vote this week.
“However, given the general nature of the report’s recommendations, we were unable to reach consensus on the legislative details during our limited number of sitting days. We plan to continue work on this topic over the coming weeks and months so that we can follow up on it in the next session,” Gottesman said.
Legislation accompanying the budget this summer created the Behavioral Health Commission to meet with members of the mental health community to determine how the $100 million in one-time funding would best be used.
The commission included Collett; Representative Wendi Thomas, R-Bucks; and Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-Lehigh, who is open about his mental health issues and has championed increased funding, along with more than 20 community mental health advocates.
The commission held hearings in Central and Dauphin counties where it took evidence from providers to determine mental health care needs in rural and urban areas of the state.
He recommended allocating the money as follows:
- $37 million for workforce development to train and retain mental health workers;
- $23.5 million to provide care for people in prison or reintegrate into the community, create diversion programs as alternatives to prison for people with mental illness or addictions;
- and $39 million for services, including crisis centres, integration of mental health into primary health care, and societal determinants of health such as housing.
Collett said the most frustrating aspect of the inaction on the commission’s recommendations is that its members have received no feedback from lawmakers.
“With the feedback, we might have been able to change some of those things. We might have been able to make adjustments for it to have an even bigger impact,” Collett said.
In the meantime, suppliers will maintain the status quo, Collett said.
But Karin Annerhed-Harris of Resources for Human Development, a nonprofit social service provider in Philadelphia, said the delay means programs that are ready to launch will remain on the shelf until funding comes. for training and hiring is available.
“We need this funding to support the most vulnerable people in our society,” Annerhed-Harris said.
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