Texas’ 85th legislative session will not make cuts to mental health care funding—despite having to make reductions in other areas.
Gov. Greg Abbott and state leadership have asked state agencies to scale back funding requests by 4 percent because of anticipated budget deficits related to the drop in the price of oil, said Annalee Gulley, director of public policy and government affairs for Mental Health America of Greater Houston.
“Exemptions to this cut have been granted for certain priority areas– including public education, border security, Child Protective Services and mental health resources,” she said.
Before the 84th session ended in June 2015, the Texas Legislature passed a budget that increased mental health funds by $298 million.
“While we’ve seen funding increases for mental and behavioral health services during the past two legislative sessions, the allocated resources were simply not sufficient to compensate for the historic underfunding of state-provided mental- and behavioral-health services, especially when coupled with Texas’ population growth,” Gulley said.
Long waitlists for hospital beds in psychiatric care facilities are putting a burden on criminal justice facilities, she said. The dilapidated state of most of the publicly funded psychiatric hospitals is due to limited per capita spending on mental health services.
She said the Harris County Jail is often referred to as the largest mental institution in the state of Texas.
“At this point I don’t see our overall approach from the state on down is comprehensive enough,” Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman said.
Hickman said during the 83rd Legislature, it was estimated that about one-quarter of the inmates were receiving psychotropic drugs in the jail. Three years later, he said the average number has risen by about 100 inmates per day.
“I’m told the actual number of mental health beds at the state level have not increased in the last 10 years, and the number of forensic beds—those necessary for competency restoration—is down significantly due to closure of approximately 500 beds at one of the state hospitals,” he said.
The funding provided by the 84th Legislature allowed the Harris Center for Mental Health to maintain operations without a wait list, which has not happened since before the 2013 Legislative Session, Gulley said.
Senate Bills 239 and 55 passed in the 84th session, providing millions of dollars for mental health in the past year. SB 239 provides $5 million in tuition repayment assistance for mental health professionals. SB 55 coordinates private and public funding to create a grant program for veterans.
House Bill 197 requires public institutions of higher education to post mental health resources their website.
Gulley said prevention is the most cost-efficient tool to ensure the health of an individual, and Medicaid expansion is the top goal for mental health care funds approved after the next legislative session.
“While we are encouraged state leaders have prioritized funding for mental health resources, we anticipate a tough road ahead for all funding requests in the 85th Legislature,” Gulley said.