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Subsidizing Mental Illness by Placing Boondoggles Ahead of Treatment

Not a day passes without a new headline about devastating cuts to mental health budgets by states that say they can no longer afford to take care of the mentally ill in the aftermath of the great near-depression. Now the Bay Area News Group reports that California has funneled $7.4 billion intended for mental health services to high-priced consultants and frivolous programs.

Mental health spending creating haves and have-nots” (June 26) by Karen de Sá looked at what California has done with the billions generated by a mental health tax passed by voters in 2004. Among the findings:

  • It has funded a cottage industry of consultants earning up to $200 an hour.
  • It has financed new programs that “in many cases are only loosely linked to (mental illness) prevention, treatment and recovery.” 
  • Its policies violate the law, according to the law's co-author.
  • It has created a “Cadillac system for selected new clients and a dysfunctional, deteriorating system for those already inappropriately served.                                                                                                                                                           

State mental health officials never responded to de Sá’s requests for an explanation.

Among the infuriating and indefensible ironies of this situation is that California supervisors routinely use the “we-can’t-afford-it” excuse for not implementing the state’s assisted outpatient treatment law (AOT), known there as “Laura’s Law.” But the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) funds could be used to fund Laura’s Law - instead of things like a "Hip-Hop Car Wash" for juvenile offenders in need of independent living skills in Contra Costa County. 

The Treatment Advocacy Center has said from the outset of the current state budget crisis that life-saving court-ordered outpatient treatment for people with severe mental illness is affordable to state governments if lawmakers just start looking at the higher cost of non-treatment. De Sá’s report suggests they should also be looking at just how legitimately the money they do have is currently being spent.

Read “Mental health spending creating haves and have-nots.”

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