The Pennsylvania Capitol building in Harrisburg on March 24, 2023. Jeremy Long - WITF News
$100M in funds for adult mental health shifted to student mental health in delayed state budget
One hundred million dollars in funds for adult mental health that had been allocated last year — but remained unspent due to legislative disagreements — have been reallocated for youth mental health needs in this year’s state budget.
That has drawn opposition from some Pennsylvania legislators and advocates who served on a commission last year to make recommendations as to how to best spend the one-time federal funds.
“I understand that there is a critical need in our schools. I understand that k-12 mental health services are decimated as well and that we need to fund those services as well,” said State Sen. Maria Collett. “But … this money was allocated for a very specific need and a very specific reason.”
A Montgomery County Democrat, Collett was one of several legislators who made recommendations last year on the best uses for the funds. She and others on a statewide commission suggested several priorities, including supporting behavioral health workers, and supporting adults with behavioral health needs involved in the criminal justice system.
Some say they’re hopeful both youth and adult needs can be funded whenever a budget is finalized.
“We don’t see it as being an either/or proposition, that funding for both the adult side of the system and the children/youth side of the system is very much needed,” said Lisa Schaefer, executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania. “So the fact that we’re only seeing $100 million getting driven into the system is, of course, very concerning to us. We’d like to see funding on both sides.”
The commission’s report last year noted mental health funding to counties, which are responsible for administering many mental health programs, was cut by 10% in 2012 and has not increased since that time.
“The need for behavioral health services has steeply risen since the 2020 start of the COVID pandemic and, while utilization is higher, the funding sustaining the services has remained stagnant, forcing counties to do more with less,” the report stated.
One legislator who had championed the adult mental health funds, Rep. Mike Schlossberg, said he is hopeful the money can still somehow be included because of the state’s incomplete budget. A budget bill has been passed by both the House and Senate, though it remains unsigned in the Senate — due to an unrelated dispute about school voucher funding — and thus has not been sent to the Governor for his signature. There are also several code bills, which typically accompany a main budget bill, that must still be passed.
“I look forward to working with the Senate to try to pass a fiscal code that does fund this $100 million appropriation,” Schlossberg said. “But I think what happened in the budget is extremely frustrating, disheartening and downright damaging to people whose lives could be improved by enhanced funding for mental health.”
Legislators are not scheduled to return to the Capitol until September.