Mental Health America Analysis Details Impact of Federal Budget Cuts
Mental Health Weekly October 15, 2012
Sequestration, the process of making automatic budget cuts to federal government programs, would have a “devastating impact” on key programs and services for people living with mental health and substance use conditions, including children’s mental health services and homeless outreach programs, according to a new analysis released October 4 by Mental Health America (MHA).
The sequester was included as a budget-reduction enforcement mechanism in the Budget Control Act of 2011, which had directed a “Super Committee” to find $1.2 trillion in savings over 10 years in both defense and non-defense discretionary (NDD) spending, according to the analysis.
Because the committee failed to reach a deal, automatic cuts of between 8 and 11 percent will take effect on January 2, 2013, unless Congress passes legislation to postpone it or finds other ways to reduce the federal deficit. These proposals come on the heels of three consecutive years of cuts to mental health and addiction services and supports.
These cuts would be further exacerbated if the budget approach advocated by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan were to be enacted, the analysis stated. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recently estimated that their plan, which would exempt the military budget from sequestration, would result in a 22 percent cut to domestic discretionary spending. The MHA analysis finds that sequestration would devastate critical programs administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) that protect youth and families, including youth violence and suicide prevention services.
“These cuts will be disastrous to communities and individuals living with mental health and substance use conditions and put the lives of hundreds of thousands of children and families at risk,” said Wayne Lindstrom, M.D., president and CEO of Mental Health America. “States have already cut mental health budgets by a combined $4 billion over the past three years – the largest single combined reduction to mental health spending since de-institutionalization in the 1970s.”
Lindstrom added, “Given that one in every four Americans lives with a mental health or substance se condition, and more than 67 percent of adults and 80 percent of children who need services do not receive treatment, maintaining discretionary federal funding for mental health and substance use services is pivotal to ensure citizens have access to behavioral healthcare.”
Key program cuts
The MHA analysis, which assumes a 10 percent cut to all SAMHSA programs and other public health activities and research, finds that under sequestration:
• 684,000 individuals will lose critical employment and housing assistance, case management services and school based supports.
• 1.13 million children and adults will be at risk of losing access to any type of public mental health support.
• More than 320,000 children will miss out on coordinated mental health services, early intervention and prevention programming, and other suicide prevention services.
• 230,000 individuals will lose access to treatment and prevention services.
• 169,000 fewer individuals will be admitted to substance use treatment programs.
A balanced approach to reducing the deficit is key, Julio Abreu, senior director of government policy for MHA, told MHW. “The administration said it would veto any approach that isn’t balanced and reject any carve out,” he said.
“There are two distinct processes going on,” said Abreu. As a result of the regular appropriations process, Congress passed the FY 2013 continuing resolution last month, and that legislation would fund programs at FY 2012 rates through March 27, 2013, he said. At the same time, the current deficit package seeks $1.2 trillion in savings over the next 10 years through the “complex process” of sequestration, Abreu added.
“Our aim in preparing this report is to highlight the devastating impact of these cuts,” he said. “We want to motivate key decision makers, our affiliates and other stakeholders to take action and demand that Congress take a balanced approach to meeting this important goal.” Abreu added that lawmakers should take into account the last three rounds of cuts from fiscal years 2010 through 2012.
Abreu pointed to a letter that MHA and nearly 3,000 national, state and local organizations signed and delivered to Congress July 12 urging leaders to avert sequestration by heeding bipartisan recommendations for a balanced approach to reducing the deficit and averting cuts to non-discretionary defense (NDD) programs.
The NDD programs are not driving the deficit, said Abreu. Even if all the funding were cut from these pro-grams, it would not reach the goal of balancing the deficit, he said. Many people with mental health and substance use disorders obviously access other services, such as housing, education, jail diversion, and other programs impacted by these potential cuts, he said. “Something has to be done in terms of [providing] greater investments to the federal government in order to pay for these supports and services,” he said.