Governor’s Mental Health Proposal Would Cause Irreparable Harm to Clients and Communities

A broad coalition of mental health advocates Tuesday blasted Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposal to permanently reverse parts of the state’s landmark Mental Health Services Act (MHSA), saying the plan would harm the more than 600,000 individuals who rely on public mental health services, exacerbate the cash crunch counties face during this economic downturn, and seriously set back voter-approved plans to expand mental health services to reach more people in need.

“The Governor’s FY 2009-10 budget proposal amounts to a misguided attack on people living with mental illness who literally have no other option for services and shelter,” Patricia Ryan, Executive Director of the California Mental Health Directors Association said in a teleconference with reporters today. “We urge the Legislature to immediately reject any redirection of MHSA dollars, and any changes to the Mental Health Services Act which voters resoundingly approved just four years ago.”

Passed in 2004 by voters who recognized the dire need to address decades of inadequate funding for mental health programs, the Mental Health Services Act (Prop. 63) generated new revenues to expand the state’s mental health services and reach the estimated 60% of Californians living with disabling mental illness who were not served under the existing system. The initiative expressly prohibits MHSA funds being used to replace other state or county funding for mental health programs.

Violating the very intent of the initiative, the Governor’s FY 2009-10 budget plan would redirect $227 million in MHSA dollars this year and completely and permanently eliminate the state’s general fund obligations for basic mental health services provided under the Medi-Cal Managed Care Consolidation program. The Governor has also proposed a ballot initiative that would reverse critical provisions of Proposition 63, permanently locking California into the inadequate mental health financing system which existed before the landmark measure’s approval by voters.

In a letter to the Governor and Legislative leaders, advocates said that if approved, the Governor’s proposal to redirect MHSA funds and reverse critical provisions of Proposition 63 would have the following disastrous consequences for California communities:

  • Cause immediate harm to the most vulnerable in our state who rely on the Medi-Cal Managed Care consolidation program for their most basic mental health services.
  • Exacerbate the cash crunch counties are already experiencing in the current economic downturn by forcing them to direct sharply declining MHSA dollars into Medi-Cal services.
  • Threaten counties’ ability to continue providing services to the more than 200,000 new clients who have been served with Mental Health Services Act funding, literally forcing thousands of vulnerable Californians out of treatment and shelter and onto the streets.
  • Stop short the dramatic gains California has made under the MHSA to expand mental health services to the many people in our communities who need help, and move away from an “institution-first” model of care.

“The Governor’s proposal threatens the tens of thousands of people who rely on state-supported mental health services for their basic survival and ability to live safely in their communities, and it turns the clock back on California’s efforts to reach the thousands and thousands more who need services but have not historically been able to access the State mental health system,” said Wayne Clark, Director of Behavior Health, Monterey County and President, California Mental Health Directors Association “It is also short-sighted from a financial perspective; successful community mental health programs save state dollars in health care, homelessness services, law enforcement and corrections costs over the long run.”

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“The Governor’s proposal represents a dramatic attempt to undermine the voters’ clear call for additional services to help thousands more people living with mental illness access recovery and support in their own communities,” said John Buck, CEO, Turning Point Community Programs. “This proposal will mean shutting the door on people in our communities who literally have no other option for shelter and even survival.”

Frank Topping, a client of mental health services noted, “As a consumer who is now in the position to be an advocate for mental health clients, I’m so fortunate to represent the best of California’s mental health system that proudly sees institutionalization as a last option. Sadly, I know so many more people like me who have literally died trying to access services. It breaks my heart to think that we may return to a system where institutionalization is not just the first choice, but the only choice for people who could be living proudly in their communities.”

“So many families like mine have waited years to see our children thrive, as we know they can. I don’t want another family to face the unbearable choices this proposal will require,” said Diana Rini, whose daughter is enrolled in the ANKA Full Service Partnership of Riverside County Mental Health.

Organizations signing today’s letter to the Governor and Legislative leaders included: California Mental Health Directors Association, California Network of Mental health Clients, Mental Health Association of California, California Council of Community Mental Health Agencies, California Alliance of Children and Family Services, California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, California State Association of Counties, California Association of Social Rehabilitation Agencies, National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) California, California Society for Clinical Social Work, California Psychological Association, California Psychiatric Association, National Association of Social Workers, and the California Mental Health Planning Council.

LETTER TO GOVERNOR AND LEGISLATIVE LEADERS

Dear Governor and Legislative Leaders:

On behalf of the more than 600,000 Californians served by the State’s public mental health system and the many more who desperately need and deserve services, we are writing to communicate our strong opposition to the Governor’s proposal to unravel the voter-approved Mental Health Services Act (MHSA). The Governor’s FY 2009-10 budget proposal amounts to a misguided attack on people living with mental illness who literally have no other option for services and shelter. It also represents a dramatic attempt to undermine the voters’ clear call for additional services to help thousands more people living with mental illness access recovery and support in their own communities.

Despite the Administration’s characterization of his proposal to redirect $226.7 million in MHSA funding to reduce the State’s obligations to the Medi-Cal Managed Care Consolidation Program as “one-time only,” the Governor’s FY 2009-10 proposal would completely and permanently eliminate General Fund support for this program. The fiscal and operational consequences of this proposal would be catastrophic to counties and the clients they serve. What’s more, the Governor’s call for a ballot initiative to reverse critical provisions of Proposition 63 would permanently lock California into the inadequate mental health financing system which existed before the landmark measure’s approval by voters.

If approved, the Governor’s proposal to redirect MHSA funds and reverse critical provisions of Proposition 63 would have the following disastrous consequences for California communities:

  • Cause immediate harm to the most vulnerable in our state who rely on the Medi-Cal Managed Care consolidation program for their most basic mental health services.
  • Exacerbate the cash crunch counties are already experiencing in the current economic downturn by forcing them to direct sharply declining MHSA dollars into Medi-Cal services.
  • Threaten counties’ ability to continue providing services to the more than 200,000 new clients who have been served with Mental Health Services Act funding, literally forcing thousands of vulnerable Californians out of treatment and shelter and onto the streets.
  • Stop short the dramatic gains California has made under the MHSA to expand mental health services to the many people in our communities who desperately need care.

As you know, Proposition 63 was approved overwhelmingly in 2004 by voters who recognized the dire need to address decades of inadequate state funding to meet the most basic needs of mental health consumers in communities across California. By calling for the redirection of MHSA dollars into existing state and county programs, the Governor’s proposal completely undermines the intent of the voters to expand mental health services to reach thousands more who need services but who cannot be served without additional funding.

Patricia Ryan

In short, the Governor’s proposal threatens the tens of thousands of people who rely on state-supported mental health services for their basic survival and ability to live safely in their communities, and it turns the clock back on California’s efforts to reach the approximately 60% of people living with disabling mental illness who have not historically been served by the State’s mental health system. We urge your immediate rejection of ANY redirection of MHSA dollars, whether one-time or on-going, and any changes to the Mental Health Services Act which voters resoundingly approved just four years ago.

Sincerely,

Patricia Ryan

Patricia Ryan
Executive Director
California Mental Health Directors Association

Betty Dahlquist
Executive Director
California Association of Social Rehabilitation Agencies

Grace McAndrews
Executive Director
National Alliance on Mental Illness California

Rusty Selix,
Executive Director
California Council of Community Mental Health Agencies and Mental Health Association in California

Janlee Wong
Executive Director
National Association of Social Workers

Marty Griffin President,
Board of Trustees
California Mental Health Advocates for Children and Youth

Gwen Lewis-reid
Interim Executive Director
California Network of Mental Health Clients

Kelly Brooks
Legislative Representative
CSAC

Geraldine Esposito
Executive Director
California Society for Clinical Social Work

Amanda Levy
Director of Government Affairs
California Psychological Association

Mary Riemersma
Executive Director
California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists

Mary A. Hernandez
Government Relations Advocate
SEIU CA State Council

Randall Hagar
Director of Government Affairs
California Psychiatric Association

Carroll Schroeder
Executive Director
California Alliance of Child and Family Services

Dale Mueller
Chairperson
California Mental Health Planning Council

Reprinted with permission from the California Progress Report.

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  1. We linked to this article in a post on the CA NOW blog: World’s 8th Largest Economy Broke

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