NYAPRS Note: Thanks to the hard work of MHANYS and its CEO Glenn Liebman, a bill to allow NYS taxpayers to designate funds to fight stigma and discrimination has passed the NYS Assembly. While it doesn’t appear to have passed the Senate before session’s end last Friday, advocates will pick up this effort next session.
Tax Check-Off Funding Bill in N.Y. Aims To Erase MH Stigma
Mental Health Weekly June 24, 2013
The need to eliminate mental health stigma figured prominently during the June 3 launch of the White House dialogue on mental health. With just days left in New York state’s legislative session, the state’s mental health advocates are pushing for legislation that creates a voluntary mental health public awareness tax check-off to end discrimination against mental illness. The Assembly version of the bill passed June 18.
The Mental Health Tax Check-Off Bill (A 5953/S 3864) would create an income tax check-off for a mental illness anti-stigma fund in the state. Introduced by New York State Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther (D-Forestburgh) and Sen. David Carlucci (D-Rockland/Westchester), the legislation would establish a gift for eliminating the stigma relating to mental illness on personal income tax returns.
According to the legislation, all revenue collected would be credited to the Mental Illness Anti-Stigma Fund. The legislation directs the state Office of Mental Health to provide grants to organizations dedicated to eliminating the stigma attached to mental illness and to persons with mental health needs. A spokesperson for the New York
State Office of Mental Health said the office does not comment on pending legislation.
Both Carlucci and Gunther recognize that the legislation is a “common sense” response that doesn’t have any financial impact to taxpayers or to the state, Glenn Liebman, CEO of the Mental Health Association in New York State (MHANYS), told MHW. Now that the bill has passed in the Assembly, Liebman said there are still concerns about the Senate version, which has been stalled in the Senate Investigations Committee.
As MHW went to press, there had been no word on further Senate activity.
New Yorkers could contribute and check off $1, $5 or even $1,000 on their personal income tax form toward mental health awareness, he said. “You could determine whatever amount you want to give,” said Liebman.
New York state has income tax check-offs for such issues as the Alzheimer’s Disease Fund, Breast Cancer Research and Education Fund and the Missing/Exploited Children Fund. “We’re trying to become one of those check marks,” Liebman said.
The mental health stigma that continues to be prevalent around the country makes this an opportune time to push for the legislation, said Liebman. “We really have to tackle that 500 pounds of stigma,” he said, adding that addressing the issue of mental health stigma has been a part of MHANYS’s agenda for several years. The legislation had been perception of people with mental illness. As long as stigma exists, there is still going to be discrimination.
Liebman added, “Now after Newtown, we figure this is a great time to push back against those who contribute to the stigma of mental illness.” A person with a mental illness is 12 times more likely to become a victim of violence than a perpetrator, he said. “Mental illness is always getting dragged into the [gun debate] discussion,” Liebman said.
Liebman added, “The fabric of the nation has to change about perception of people with mental illness. As long as stigma exists, there is still going to be discrimination.
MHANYS has advised its members to call Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Senate Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) Chair Jeffrey Klein, noted Liebman.
Although the legislature was scheduled to end June 20, the session may be extended another week, he said. “If the legislation passes, that would be a great step,” said Liebman.
“But we still have to get the governor [Andrew Cuomo] to sign it; that’s another advocacy agenda. We hope to follow up. Public awareness about mental illness is something everybody can rally around and something the general population should embrace.”