More $ for Mental Health Services Shows Gains for Those who Need Them

Nearly 15 years ago, California voters passed Proposition 63, now known as the Mental Health Services Act.  The proposition imposed a 1 percent tax on people earning more than $1 million annually to pay for more mental health services.  The measure raises about $2 billion each year.

Los Angeles County, which receives the largest share of the money, commissioned a study by the Rand Corporation about the results of the new services.  The study was based on data from 2012 to 2016 and interviews with participants.  Here are excerpts about the findings, as reported by Kaiser Health News.

“The money is ‘critically important’ for the community mental health system and for people who need treatment but haven’t been served well in traditional ways, said Toby Ewing, executive director of the state’s Mental Health Services Oversight & Accountability Commission. “We can only imagine the challenges we would face if those funds weren’t available.”

The funds go beyond the more basic services that counties traditionally provide, helping to pay for workers to reach out to homeless people and triage patients with mental health issues in hospitals, he said.

The report covered two main programs — one for prevention and early intervention of mental illness in young people and another aimed at improving outcomes for people with serious mental illness.

Those who participate in the second program are in and out of jails and hospitals, and really need intensive services, according to Debbie Innes-Gomberg, the department’s deputy director. She said she was pleased Rand found that the services are making a difference. ‘It is a very good investment,’ she said, adding that the county plans to add more participants this year.”

Here is the key finding from the report itself.

“The evaluation found evidence that the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (LAC DMH) is reaching the highly vulnerable population it seeks to reach with its FSP and youth PEI programs. Furthermore, those reached by the programs experience improvements in their mental health and life circumstances.”

Click here to read “California’s Tax on Millionaires Yields Big Benefits for Those with Mental Illness.”  Click here to read the Rand study.

Passage of the referendum in California’s tax-weary state took determination, political shrewdness, and a sense of how to sell the need for more services.  Check the next blog post for information about how advocates made their case. 

 

 

 

Voters Will Support Mental Health Funding: California Offers Lessons

Proposition 13, passed in California in 1978, restricted increases in property taxes and required that all state tax increases be approved by a two-thirds vote of the state legislature. Because of the difficulty of securing that vote, advocates for various causes  turned to the use of propositions or “ballot-box budgeting” to raise revenue.  Most of those efforts were unsuccessful, but advocates succeeded in getting a measure passed that imposed a 1 percent tax for mental health services on people earning more than #1 million a year.  

Psychiatric News published a series of articles describing the campaign.  They contain lessons for advocacy in the future.

Click here to read “Complex Strategy Leads to Success of MH Initiative.”  Among the findings: Focus groups and polling revealed a strong positive response to the question: “Have you or someone you know suffered from a serious mental illness?”  The phrase “Everyone knows someone with mental illness” became a key theme of the campaign.

Click here to read “Lawmaker’s Crusade Boosts MH Funding.”  Darrel Steinberg traveled the state and found that residents could see the link between the emptying of mental hospitals and the rise of homelessness.

Click here to read “California Voters Say Rich Should Help Fund MH Care.”  Among the conclusions of a polling and analysis firm:

(1)[The] “severely mentally ill evoke the most sympathy and compassion from voters…. Even more cynical voters who doubted the measure’s means, merits, and objectives did not question the need to provide seriously emotionally disturbed children with [treatment]….”

(2) Voters want a proven model.   The new effort was modeled on California AB 34, a pilot program approved in 1999 that funds services to mentally ill adults who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless or incarcerated.

Following are excerpts from the article.

The Campaign for Mental Health formed a broad coalition of organizations that together represent a number of different constituencies. In addition to state and national medical and mental health associations, the CMH includes six major California unions and organizations such as the California Teachers Association, AARP-California, and the California Police Chiefs Association (CPCA).

CPCA President Cam Sanchez wrote in a letter to the San Diego Union-Tribune, “Police chiefs like me face an awful reality: 20 percent of our officers’ time is spent dealing with untreated mental illness. Too often, we must take people with mental illness to jail, not because they have done anything wrong, but because there is nowhere else to go…. Proposition 63 will finally make mental health care a priority and free law enforcement to spend more of their time and resources on public safety rather than our failed mental health system.”

City councils in Los Angeles, Oakland, Santa Barbara, and Santa Monica supported the initiative, as did the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

The CMH gathered more than 600,000 signatures, nearly double the number required to qualify the initiative for the ballot.  Sympathetic stories in major newspapers portrayed the impact of the failed mental health system and described lives that had been reclaimed by treatment.

Click here to read “Advocates Hope Tax on Wealthy Can Fund MH Services.”

 

 

Three States Reduced Prison Populations by about 25 Percent…and Cut Crime by More than the National Average

In an op ed in “Urban Milwaukee,” Casey Hoff, a criminal defense attorney in Sheboygan, added new information about the economic and social costs of more prisons.   Here is an excerpt.

“Well more than half of the states in this country have passed legislation to cut back on mandatory minimum sentences.

States that have implemented these policies for the longest periods of time, such as New York, New Jersey and California, have many years of evidence to show reducing prison populations and closing prisons has not caused spikes in crime nor has doing so had a negative effect on public safety.

Starting in the late 1990s or mid-2000s, these three states reduced their prison populations by approximately 25 percent. During that time, violent crime rates were going down nationally. However, violent crime rates decreased at greater rates in New York, New Jersey and California than the nationwide average.

Between 1999 and 2012, when New York and New Jersey reduced their prison populations by 26 percent, the national prison population increased by 10 percent.

…Look to our neighbors in Minnesota. The populations of Minnesota and Wisconsin are roughly equal. Both states have similar crime rates. However, Wisconsin has more than double the prison population of Minnesota.”

Click here to read the op ed.

SB 54 Stopped: Bill to Borrow $350 for a new Prison Dropped.

Here is WISDOM’s victory statement.  See below for history of bill.  Click here  for “Prison bill dies in state senate. 

WISDOM – Linking Communities across Wisconsin to Work for Justice
1. Senate Bill 54 is dead!

Many WISDOM leaders helped to lead the opposition to SB54, the bill that would have irresponsibly spent $350 million to build a new prison in Wisconsin. After so many visits and phone calls, the State Senate decided not to even vote on it: they completely dropped it from their agenda yesterday.

This is huge victory, and it sets the stage for serious conversations about how our state must responsibly reduce the prison population. WISDOM members really answered the call last week. Hundreds of you contacted Senators’ offices. About 100 of you went to the Capitol on short notice: besides more than 50 MOSES members, there were people from MICAH, RIC, CUSH, ESTHER, JOSHUA, NAOMI and JOB. We made a difference!

Here is the initial call to action from WISDOM.

Two weeks ago, the Wisconsin State Assembly recklessly approved a massive new expenditure of tax dollars to build a prison we don’t need. They amended Senate Bill 54 (SB54) so that it includes authorization to borrow $350 million to build a new prison, as well as another $50 million per year in additional spending.
The State Senate can stop this irresponsible plan when they meet later this month.
Next Tuesday we need as many people as possible to come to the Capitol to let Senators know that SB54 is a terrible idea. They need to stop it, and focus on policies that will actually make us safer.
Join us in Madison.  Whether or not you will be with us in Madison, we are also asking that you call your State Senator today.  You only need to contact your Senator’s office, not your Assembly Rep. It’s fine to talk with staff members.

Some things you can say to them include:
• $350 million is a huge amount of money that the Assembly added at the last minute. That is reckless. Before spending our money on a new prison, the state needs to look at the ways it can safely reduce the prison population: by expanding Treatment Alternatives and Diversions (TAD); by ending Crimeless Revocations; by re-starting the Parole process. We could cut down the prison population by thousands by just doing those things.
• Other states, both Democrat and Republican-led, are reducing their prison populations. Texas and Michigan are 2 examples of states that are closing prisons. And, the states that are reducing their prison populations are the ones seeing the greatest DECREASE IN CRIME.

As citizens, we want our leaders to take a careful look at how we can have less people in prison, rather than make a rash decision to borrow $350 million for our children and grandchildren to pay back.

 

Wisconsin Justice Initiative Reports that Costs of Latest Prison Bill Could Exceed $300 Million

Here are the opening paragraphs of a blog post from the Wisconsin Justice Initiative.

“The Republican proposal to toughen revocation rules for people under Department of Corrections supervision and to build a new prison to house the additional inmates snared by the new rules could be far more expensive than has been publicly discussed, according to records.

“The measure was approved by the Assembly and is awaiting action by the State Senate. No Democrat voted for the proposal, although State Rep. Jason Fields (D-Milwaukee) did not cast a vote. Republican Adam Jarchow (R-Balsam Lake) voted against it, and David Murphy (R-Greenville) and Shannon Zimmerman (R-River Falls) did not vote.

“The focus has been on one scenario presented by the DOC, which comes with an estimated price tag of $57 million per year in additional costs after tougher revocation rules would be fully implemented. But the department worked up other estimates that put possible costs far higher—up to $201 million more per year.

“And while the Assembly version of the bill would authorize $350 million in borrowing, interest payments likely would add at least $100 million to that price tag and possibly much more, depending on the length of the financing and the interest rate.”

The post goes on to describe additional costs to counties that would result from the need to house inmates who are revoked and awaiting transfer to prison.

Click here to read the blog post.