County commissioners came to Harrisburg this week to meet with state lawmakers and make their case for increased funding for mental health services.
It’s an issue the County Commissioner Association of Pennsylvania made its top priority for 2020 as the local leaders have said the state’s funding for such services do not meet the needs they see daily.
Bradford County Commissioner Ed Bustin told a hearing of the House Human Services Committee that he and officials from other counties hear from mental health stakeholders that they’re not doing enough to care for those in need. To meet that need, Bustin said CCAP is calling for $42 million in baseline funding.
“This helps counties to ensure that safety net of services already in place are strong and sustainable before adding additional programs and new services,” he said.
But new services are also needed. In particular, Bustin pointed out that one need was providing “step down” services for people suffering from mental health issues that have been released from jail. He noted that in many cases, those individuals receive care while incarcerated, but that support goes away once they’re released.
The funding increase can’t just be a one-time adjustment, either, county officials said. Beyond the $42 million investment, CCAP supports a 3 percent annual increase in funding to make up for the past decade.
Dr. Val Arkoosh, chairwoman of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, said that if such cost-of-living increases were made since 2007, her county would have had about $7 million more in accrued mental health spending over the last 12 years.
“It adds up to real and substantive dollars,” she said.
Committee Chairman Thomas Murt, R-Hatboro, said the state’s mental health spending has been a concern for his. In particular, he believes the lack of funding has led to an increase in homelessness.
He’s also concerned that 10 percent of the incarcerated population are veterans and that the state may not be doing enough to help former military members with mental health issues adjust to civilian life.
“If we fund this mission as we should, we really believe that we could address those numbers in a meaningful way,” he said.
The hearing took place after Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget address. Murt said he’s already called on members of the House Appropriations Committee to support increased mental health funding.
“I speak for the committee when I say we care about these issues,” Murt said.