Lawmakers Increase Mental Health Investments

A good economy has produced rising revenues for the state of Oregon, which allowed legislators to add almost $5 million in mental health investments.

The closeout budget bill for the 2018 session included a number of new social service items, particularly with investments in mental health.

School-based health centers won their request of $950,000 to hire more mental health therapists.

“As numerous studies have indicated, youth stress, anxiety, mental and behavioral issues are increasingly having a profound impact on school age youth around the state. Oregon is undertaking a number of efforts to address these concerns, including adding school resources and adopting trauma informed practices,” according to a letter distributed by supporters of the request, such as the Oregon School-Based Health Centers, Multnomah County and Oregon Nurses Association as well as a host of mental health providers.

“Research indicates that providing mental and behavioral supports to students is critical. Yet, the state’s mental health capacity program is severely underfunded. This proposal attempts to make a small adjustment to the fund to begin to address the crisis facing students in the state.”

The budget adjustment in House Bill 5201 also adds $2 million to increase provider rates for residential treatment for mental health and $900,000 to expand the Oregon Psychiatric Access Line, or OPAL-K to adults from its current mission, which serves children in crisis.

“Mental Health continues to be one of my top priorities. People are hurting, they need help and often have nowhere to turn. Mental health is at the heart of many of the major political issues of today,” said Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, in a statement explaining the new budget items. “Mental health and physical health are closely tied. It is important that Oregonians have access to quality mental health services.”

A separate bill, Senate Bill 1555, adds $16 million to community mental health services from the marijuana tax fund. SB 1555 removes a restriction on marijuana tax funding to allow its use for general community mental health needs as well as addictions treatment.

The Department of Public Safety Standards and Training saw a $400,000 appropriation to help first responders be trained for mental health and crisis intervention -- a regular and increasing part of their workload.

The Salem area will also be getting $150,000 for a new sobering center.

HB 5201 was also used to balance the budgets of state agencies, including the Oregon Health Authority and the Department of Human Services.

About $39 million will be transferred from OHA to DHS to go along with the transfer of Medicaid enrollment, which will be administered by DHS along with other social services available to poor people, including food stamps, employment-related daycare, and temporary cash assistance for needy families.

Overall, the budget reduces the general fund support to OHA by $23 million, but draws down additional funding from other sources, such as the hospital assessment and the federal government, so that OHA’s total budget actually rises by $296 million. Some of this money had been held back because the vote on Measure 101 delayed the implementation of the increased assessment.

The budget increases general fund support to DHS by $88 million, with a total funds increase of $255 million. As reported earlier, DHS found $13.3 million in program savings in order to suspend plans to cut services to disabled children.

HB 5201 also includes a special account of $30 million that will act as a rainy-day fund for the two agencies if caseloads rise in the last 16 months of the biennium. The emergency budget board will meet in the interim with the power to dispense this money as needed.

Chris can be reached at chris@thelundreport.org.