Senate Finance Committee testimony 1.31.13

Yesterday, Greg Hansch (our Policy Coordinator) provided his first testimony to the Texas Legislature. It also happened to be his 25th birthday. Please see the quoted text below for the testimony that Greg provided on behalf of NAMI Texas to the Senate Finance Committee on January 31st, 2013.

“Public mental health services in Texas are chronically underfunded. According to Fiscal Year 2010 data from the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, Texas ranks 49th among the 50 states in per capita mental health spending. This is ostensibly an improvement from our previous position as last in the United States, but in reality we only moved up a spot because Idaho drastically cut spending on mental health services and Texas kept funding levels more or less the same. In Fiscal Year 2010, Texas spent about $39 per capita on mental health services, far below the national average of $127. Recent tragic events like the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut and College Station, Texas have drawn an unprecedented level of public and media attention to the issue, but the need for greater state investment in the Texas mental health system is longstanding. The time is now for lawmakers to provide adequate funding for mental health services in Texas.

Senate Bill 1 proposes to significantly reduce funding for community mental health services for adults and children.  Further reducing funding for these services is penny wise and pound foolish: when individuals living with mental illness are unable to access services in the community, they often end up in prisons, jails, and hospital emergency rooms. According to the Department of State Health Services and the Legislative Budget Board, it costs 11 times more to treat an individual living with mental illness in the criminal justice system than it does to treat them in the community. Rather than continuing to settle for a costly, crisis-driven system, the state of Texas would be better served by addressing mental illness at the front end through community-based services.

On a related note, the lack of affordable housing and support services for individuals living with mental illness is a primary cause of so many of these individuals ending up in emergency rooms and the criminal justice system. The Department of State Health Services Exceptional Item #8 would go a long way in addressing this issue through housing support options and a 1915(i) amendment to the Medicaid state plan for individuals with extended state hospital stays. This would provide the GR match for community-based services and permanent supportive housing, which has proven to be cost effective and critical for the recovery processes of those living with serious mental illnesses. I strongly encourage the state Legislature to fully fund Exceptional Item #8 of the Department of State Health Services.

Mental health care in Texas is a cause whose time has come. An increase in overall funding for mental health services and the full funding of Exceptional Item #8 would positively impact the lives of individuals living with mental illness and their families, as well as provide an avenue for the more efficient expenditure of state resources for mental health care. Thank you very much for your time.”

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