By Ron Honberg, NAMI Director of Policy and Legal Affairs
There is no easy way of saying it. After more than four years of budget cutting in many states, the mental health safety net is seriously frayed. In total, more than $1.6 billion in general funds has been cut from state mental health budgets since 2009. When funds under the control of other state agencies such as housing and child and adolescent services or Medicaid are factored in, the sum of the total cuts is undoubtedly significantly higher.
South Carolina has cut its state mental health budget by the highest percentage, 39.3 percent since 2009, Alabama by 36 percent, Alaska by 32.6 percent, Illinois 31.7 percent and Nevada 28.1 percent. In terms of actual dollars, California has cut a staggering $764.8 million in state mental health funding during this time period, New York $204.9 million and Illinois $187 million.
When cuts of this magnitude occur, our entire society pays a huge price. In some states, both inpatient and community services have been sharply eroded; a penny wise, pound foolish strategy that does not save money at all and only ends up shifting higher costs to emergency rooms, jails and prisons, and homeless shelters. For example:
- In Illinois, three of the state’s nine psychiatric hospitals are slated to close. 5,000 children and adults living with serious mental illnesses could be cut off from services.
- In Nevada, a state that has cut mental health funding by 28 percent since 2009, suicide rates are among the highest in the nation.
- In Michigan, a state among those hit hardest by the budget crisis, the Detroit-Wayne County Community Mental Health Agency has absorbed about $30 million in cuts since the fall of 2008, leading to the elimination of downsizing of mental health programs throughout Detroit, including those serving people who are homeless and living with mental illnesses.
Until 2011, Medicaid was largely spared from budget cuts because of federal stimulus funds. As these stimulus funds expired in June 2011, states are facing $14 billion in potential losses from federal Medicaid revenues. To respond, states such as Arizona and Ohio have begun to divert mental health dollars to Medicaid and away from uninsured individuals with serious mental illnesses who do not have Medicaid. Other states may follow suit.
NAMI’s report contains three policy recommendations. First, mental health services should be protected and strengthened and mental health spending cuts should be restored. Second, data collection and outcomes measurement in determining the value and effectiveness of specific mental health services must be improved. Finally, access to acute care and long term care services must be preserved.
What You Can Do?
Now is the time to contact your Governor and state legislators and urge them to protect or restore funding for mental health services. NAMI has developed talking points and a sample letter for you to use in advocating for adequate mental health funding. This information can be found here.
All of the data, published in the report State Mental Health Cuts: The Continuing Crisis, including information about how your state is doing in funding mental health care, can be found at State Budget Cuts Report