After the March: Act Locally

Madison had the second highest per capita number of marchers in the country.  We might  have been first if so many of us had not marched in Washington, D.C.

How can we harness all that energy and maintain it over four long years?  I made a list to remind myself of all the opportunities close at hand.  They suit my priorities and mostly fit in my “keep at it” category.  But, still, they might offer some new ideas to someone else.

Learn about local government. The League of Women Voters Dane County encouraged its members to attend committee meetings of the city and county governments in the next months.  I’m going to a meeting of the county’s Health and Human Needs Committee on January 25.  We will discuss what we learned at unit meetings in February.

Follow the Money.  A coalition of 18 organizations released an alternative budget showing that nearly $900 million would be available to improve the lives of middle- and low-income people in Wisconsin by closing two tax programs that benefit millionaires and other wealthy people.  The Wisconsin Budget Project posted the budget on its website, along with other reports that help explain how fiscal policies affect our lives.  I learned only a few days ago that Wisconsin’s minimum wage is one of the lowest in the country.

Try to Understand and Explain Medicaid.  Medicaid is the largest source of funds for mental health services.  It is particularly important to poor people and people with serious mental illness.  But, it is a very complicated program that varies from state to state.  Wisconsin’s situation is especially complicated because Governor Walker refused federal funds to expand services, but used state tax dollars to add some people to the rolls.  The various proposals for change likely will end up decreasing services and reducing the number of people who are eligible.  Understanding and explaining how that will happen is hard.

Stay Informed about Efforts to Get People with Mental Illness into Treatment instead of Jail.  Dane County has had lots of activity on the goal of reforming the criminal justice system during the last couple of years.  The County Board produced a report with 30 recommendations.  MOSES continues to meet and offer good ideas.  Dane County sent a team to a Stepping Up Summit to learn from experts and other communities.  But, the necessary expansion of mental health services has not occurred.  We need an economic argument, showing that tax dollars would be saved by treating people before they are sentenced.  The Stepping Up Initiative website offers accounts from communities that have been more successful than we have.  I’ll try to learn from them.

Remember that Money Helps.  When I’m feeling too old, tired, or discouraged to do something about an issue, I’ll try to remind myself that some organization doubtless is working on it and its employees need paychecks.

Wisconsin Coalition Finds Nearly $900 Million for New Investments in the State’s Families and Workers

A coalition of health, welfare and labor organizations is pushing back on the idea that the state can not afford to spend money to improve the lives of its middle-income and poor residents.

“For too long, we’ve all been told that there’s not enough money in the budget to help our communities thrive. That is not true,” a spokesperson claimed.

Where did they find the money? In two tax loopholes that benefit those in high-income tax brackets. Elimination of a tax break that greatly reduces the state income tax for certain manufacturers and agricultural producers would yield about $284 million annually. Nearly 80 percent of the credit goes to people earning over $1 million. Treating capital gains like ordinary income would yield about $164 million annually. The top 2 percent of earners receive almost half of the capital gains tax breaks. The analysis assumes a two-year legislative budget.

The savings could buy a lot. “A Wisconsin Budget for All” proponents offered a list that includes an increase in living wages for caregivers, an expansion of the earned income tax credit that would help low-income workers, free tuition at technical colleges for seniors and some older workers, a new funding stream to hire and retain teachers, and other programs that would improve the lives of Wisconsin residents.

The coalition includes 18 organizations. Its website is: http://www.facebook.com/WisconsinBudgetForAll.   Click here to access the full budget report.

UPDATE:  The Wisconsin Budget Project reported that 19 states increased the minimum wage this month.   Most states exceed the federal requirement for a minimum wage of $7.25/hour.  Wisconsin’s minimum wage remains at $7.25/hour.  Click  here to read the full report.

UPDATE:  The Wisconsin Budget Project updated its information on the cost to taxpayers of the tax break for agricultural producers and manufacturers.  Below is an excerpt from the report.

“The Manufacturing and Agriculture Credit (MAC) is on track to cost the state an estimated $299 million this year by cutting taxes for manufacturers and others – and more than $650 million in the two-year budget period that starts in July 2017.  The cost of this tax break is running more than double the amount that lawmakers originally anticipated when they approved the credit in 2011.”

Grants Available to Reduce Recidivism for Inmates with Mental Health/Substance Abuse Problems

The Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance is seeking applications for the Second Chance Act Reentry Program for Adults with Co-Occurring Substance Use and Mental Disorders. This program provides resources to state, local, and tribal governments to establish or enhance the provision of treatment to adults to facilitate successful reintegration of individuals returning from incarceration to their communities.  Applications are due March 14, 2017.

Click here for more information.

 

Training Available for Judges concerning Mental Health

One of 10 recommendations of the “Mental Health, Solitary Confinement, and Incarceration” task group to the Dane County Board of Supervisors in 2015 was to “support the development of a plan to deliver additional training and resources for judicial officials, attorneys and others involved in the court process.”

Free help is available from the Justice Center of the Council of State Governments.  A training, “Judicial Work at the Interface of Mental Health and Criminal Justice” is a four- hour live interactive training designed for judges who hear criminal cases. The program was created by judges and psychiatrists working in partnership with the American Psychiatric Association Foundation and the CSG Justice Center .

Deadline for applications is June 30,2017.  Click here for more information.

Repealing ACA Would Help the Rich and Hurt the Poor

Sometimes a headline captures the full meaning of a story.  That is the case with two reports published by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Here they are.  Click on the links if you need details.

Eliminating Two ACA Medicare Taxes Means Very Large Tax Cuts for Higher Earners and the Wealthy and ACA Repeal Would Lavish Medicare Tax Cuts on 400 Highest-Income Households.

Repealing ACA Would Be Catastrophic for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment

Here is an excerpt from a report in USA Today that describes what would happen to people with mental health and substance abuse problems.

“In New Hampshire, which has the highest synthetic opioid death rate in the country, Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is reminding Trump about some of his campaign promises in her state.

“He pledged to take on this crisis, not immediately make matters much worse,” Shaheen said in an email Friday. “Repealing the Affordable Care Act without a replacement is highly reckless and will come at a high cost for people struggling with substance use disorders.”

Almost any route taken on Capitol Hill leads to an unraveling of addiction and mental health.coverage for these people. Even the partial ACA repeal Congress is considering would eliminate the tax credits that reduce the premiums for about 85% of those who buy insurance on the federal and state exchanges. Most of those who get tax credits pay less than $100 a month for insurance and have very low out-of-pocket costs that make it possible for them to afford coverage.”

Repeal would also destroy the progress under ACA for people with mental illness and substance abuse problems in jails and prison.  Here is an excerpt about Chicago.

” The Cook County jail here is often referred to as the largest mental health facility in the country. Up to 30% of the 9,000 or more inmates in the jail have a diagnosed mental illness, according to jail data. “The ACA has been a game changer for those who are in and out of Cook County Jail,” says Mark Ishaug, CEO of Thresholds, a community-based mental health and addiction services provider in Chicago. He says poor people of color, especially single men, were finally able to keep health coverage once they left the jail. It costs less than $20,000 a year for Threshold’s highest level of community-based mental healthcare with a housing voucher, compared to nearly $70,000 a year to keep the patients in jail. About a third of Threshold’s 15,000 clients became eligible for coverage through the ACA.”

Read the full story here.

Stepping Up Initiative is Catching On

The American Psychiatric Foundation, National Association of Counties, and Council of State Governments Justice Center joined forces in 2015 to reduce the number of people with mental illness in jails and prisons.  Organizers aim to turn the Stepping up Initiative into a “long-term national movement, not a moment in time.”

They are on the way to fulfilling that promise.  More than 300 counties, including 7 in Wisconsin, have joined the initiative.  The Stepping Up website is filled with positive stories in publications from Scientific American and the New York Times to the Spartanburg Herald-Journal and the Bangor Daily News.

Dane County was one of 50 applicants selected to attend a two-day summit in Washington DC last April. Speakers from county boards, government agencies and programs throughout the country provided step-by-step guidance about how to build a coalition, collect data, develop a plan, and sell it to the community.  Federal and foundation representatives told of funding opportunities.  The sessions are available on the website.

Stepping Up has announced monthly webinars and technical assistance network calls in the coming year.  First up is a webinar on February 2, “Six Questions County Leaders Need to Ask.”   Click here for more information about technical assistance.