NYAPRS Note: Housing programs for New Yorkers with extensive mental health conditions have been in state of severe financial crisis for far too many years such that recently approved state legislation to require the state to form a commission to identify the extent of the need is hopeful news for members of the Bring It Home campaign like NYAPRS. These findings can inform next year’s budget and address the issue. Next step is for the Governor’s signature.
Are NY's Mental Health Housing Programs At Risk?
Lawmakers Pass Bill To Study Chronic Funding, Staffing Shortfalls
By Bethany Bump Albany Times Union June 27, 2019
ALBANY — New York lawmakers unanimously passed a bill last week that would force a commission to investigate what advocates say are "ongoing, debilitating" funding shortfalls across the state's mental health housing programs.
The bill, sponsored by Democrats Sen. David Carlucci and Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, would establish a temporary commission to assess the issue, and make funding recommendations that could be considered in the context of next year's state budget.
"This bill is about correcting a wrong that has persisted for years, in spite of ongoing warnings from advocates that we are fomenting a crisis by failing to act," said Carlucci, chair of the Senate's mental health and developmental disabilities committee.
New York's Office of Mental Health contracts with local governments and nonprofits to provide approximately 40,000 units of supportive housing statewide to adults with severe psychiatric disabilities. In addition to stable housing, the programs also provide assistance with health care, medication management, mental health services, employment support and addiction treatment.
Advocates say that nearly 20 years of inadequate funding has put these programs — which were designed to keep individuals out of far more expensive institutions, hospitals, jails and shelters — in jeopardy of collapse.
Rents and administrative costs have risen significantly, they say, while program funding for salaries, overhead, rental stipends and other services has not. They calculate that, depending on program type, anywhere from 40 to 70 percent of funding has been lost to inflation in the last two decades.
"We just don't have enough staff to do everything we're required to do under OMH requirements," said Antonia Lasicki, executive director of the Association for Community Living, a membership organization of nonprofit agencies that provide supportive housing services.
As a result, she said, a single staff member may wind up caring for a caseload of well over 20 residents at a time. For residents with severe psychiatric disabilities, she said, staff duties may entail managing "every single pill" a resident takes, providing meals, cleaning up, teaching life skills and developing rehabilitation plans.
The legislation calls for nine members to be appointed to a commission, which would make recommendations regarding adequate funding levels, adequate direct care staff, the need for more professional employees on staff, and the ability of current programs to meet resident needs.
It was introduced in the weeks after a deal was reached on the 2019-2020 state budget, which allocated an additional $10 million for the system.
"That didn't even cover the fair market increases to rent," Lasicki said. "We were already woefully behind and we just get further behind every year."
Somewhere in the arena of $170 million is what's actually needed to bring the programs up to snuff, she said — a figure that is close to the $160 million free tuition program Gov. Andrew Cuomo once called a "rounding error" in the state education budget.
"This isn't as sexy, but it would do a world of good," she said.
Lasicki is a member of Bring It Home, a coalition that formed in 2017 to advocate on the issue and that includes providers, mental health advocates, patients and families.
The coalition is urging Cuomo to sign the bill immediately so that the commission can compile a report in time to guide the 2020-21 budget process.