Legislature continues restoration of state funding for mental health

Money for mental health Money for mental health[/caption]

For the second consecutive session, the Legislature passed a substantial increase in mental health funding.

Before the session ended June 1, the Legislature passed a budget that increases mental health funds by
$298 million in the next biennium, according to Bill Kelly, director of policy and government relations for Mental Health America Greater Houston.

Kelly said the funding increase is a positive step for a state that was rated No. 49 in per capita spending for mental health in 2011 by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“For the first time Texas is starting to put its money where its mouth is,” Kelly said. “That was not the pattern before 2013.”

Other bills were also filed this session to address mental health across the state. State Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, filed House Bill 1393, which would establish a home- and community-based services program under the Medicaid program for individuals with mental illnesses.

Although HB 1393 died in committee, it was passed as Rider No. 61 in the budget.

Community-based services for individuals with mental health illnesses are especially important in an area like Harris County, Kelly said, due in part to the fact that the closest state hospital facility is several hours away.

“This is specifically targeted to at-risk populations who could end up in state institutions,” Kelly said. “This gives them more services at their home than we had before. Being able to target that population is a big deal.”

Senate bills 239 and 55 also passed this session, Kelly said. SB 239
provides $5 million in tuition repayment assistance for mental health professionals while SB 55 coordinates private and public funding to create a grant program for veterans.

The increased funding for
mental health services comes from a combination of factors, Kelly said, ranging from returning veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder to the criminal justice system.

“Thirty percent of the jail population has a serious and persistent mental illness,” Kelly said. “[The sheriff’s office] gets that if we don’t provide resources in the community, these folks become victims of crimes or commit crimes. The combination of criminal justice and veteran issues has brought this issue to the forefront that legislators can’t ignore.”

Kelly said there are still areas where improvement is possible.

“There’s good momentum,” he said. “We just want to make sure that it keeps up.”

By Marie Leonard
Marie came to Community Impact Newspaper in June 2011 after starting her career at a daily newspaper in East Texas. She worked as a reporter and editor for the Cy-Fair edition for nearly 5 years covering Harris County, Cy-Fair ISD, and local development and transportation news. She then moved to The Woodlands edition and covered local politics and development news in the master-planned community before being promoted to managing editor for the South Houston editions in July 2017.