HA: States MH Cuts Harm Low Income People the Most

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Cuts In State Mental Health Budgets Affect Low-Income Patients The Most

HealthAim  November 8, 2012


States have often eyed public mental health programs for cuts as they have struggled to balance their budgets.  Those cuts have hit low-income people with severe mental health disorders or addiction issues particularly hard.  The reductions have led to less money to help these people get housing and jobs, longer waiting lists for care, and more people visiting emergency rooms for psychiatric care.

According to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD), states facing severe financial shortfalls have cut at least $4.35 billion in public mental health spending from 2009 to 2012.  31 states that gave their numbers to the association reported cutting more than $840 million in fiscal year 2012 alone.  It is the largest reduction in financial support since de-institutionalization occurred in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Dr. Robert Glover, executive director at NASMHPD, said, “This is the worst, in my mind, significant budget cut in public mental health in decades, and it is beginning to show in very big ways.  We have a 10% budget cut in real dollars [this year], and when you have that occur [alongside] increased demand on an overburdened system already, I can’t tell you that people aren’t being injured or hurt.”

According to figures from the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, the state allocated $662 million for mental health programs in 2012, down from nearly $717 million in 2011.  Chris Wysocki, administrator of Juniata Valley Behavioral and Developmental Services in central Pennsylvania, said, “Mental health services and intellectual disability services have been affected by those cuts this past year, probably the most dramatic.  We had a 10% cut in both those areas [this fiscal year].”

He continued, “At this point in time, we’re clearly at the point where, when there’s any kind of cut, we have to cut direct services that individuals receive.  The newer services that are helping people stay in communities - supportive housing, psychiatric rehabilitation - those are the services that we are unable to adequately fund.”

Some states have seen bigger cuts than others have.  California’s mental health budget was around $2.8 billion in 2012, down more than $760 million from what was spent in 2009.  According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Alabama had a 36% decrease and funding in Alaska and Illinois fell by more than 30%.  South Carolina saw funding for mental health programs cut by 39% from 2009 to 2012.  29 states reported they have had to close more than 3,200 inpatient beds for mentally ill people over the last four years.