Mental Health Advocates Hope For More Funding This Session

The budgets that both the state House and Senate are considering currently have no increased funding for mental health.  In fact, Andrea Usanga — a policy director with the mental health advocacy group — Mental Health America of Greater Houston, says there are actually proposed cuts in adult and children mental health services. But Usanga is hopeful that by the end of the session that will change.

"I'm fairly confident that we will be able to — not only restore the cuts included in the initial bill — but we will have a significant increase in mental health funding."

In the Texas legislature now, there are many proposals dealing with mental health issues. From a bill that aims to reduce the ratio between school counselors and students to an amendment that would expand Medicaid eligibility.

And Houston State Representative Sylvester Turner has called on beefing up state mental health funding by $250 million dollars over two years.

But Texas has a long way to go. It ranks 49th in terms of per capita mental health funding. It spends about a billion dollars a year. That may sounds like a lot of money, but  for a state the size of Texas, Usanga says that translates to.

"$38.99 per person. The national median is $101.00."

The National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors released those figures this past fall, Usanga says. Those numbers are based on the 2010 fiscal year.

That money trickles down to in-patient beds at state hospitals and ongoing community-based services. Angela Kimball, the state policy director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness,  says some neighboring states spend more per person on mental health — for instance — Oklahoma.

"They spent nearly 40 percent more.  They spent an average of $53.05 per capita in fiscal year 2010."

Kimball says Medicaid is one of the largest funders for mental health services in the country. And in Texas when compared to national averages, she says, the state has more uninsured and fewer enrolled in Medicaid.

"So more people who need public health mental health services and less money spent. It's a formula for people ending up in crisis, ending up in jail."

Kimball hopes that more talk on mental health after the Newtown tragedy will lead to more funding on the state level.  Just last week, Governor Rick Perry told ABC local affiliate KTRK that he thinks there needs to be a look "at this whole mental health issue."

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