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Major Mental Health Cuts Are Coming, Thanks To The Alabama Legislature

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Today, the House Ways and Means Committee approved a $1.64 billion budget for the General Fund.  The budget would include major and devastating cuts to all state departments other than schools.  For the biggest three programs, prisons, Medicaid, and mental health, they would all receive 5% cuts each.  Here’s the thing, if the prisons are cut 5%, those changes the legislature passed to correct the prison system could not be done, and the feds will be coming for a takeover of the prison system.

But, I am not going to talk about prisons in this post, I am going to talk about the mental health cuts and their very negative impact.  Governor Bentley released what would happen if the mental health system was cut 5%, or about $100 million when you combine the state and federal funding cuts.

Community Mental Illness Services impacted:

  • Over 24,000 people with mental illness will lose or experience reductions in services.
  • 589 consumers will lose residential services (group homes, supported housing, MOM apartments, etc.).
  • 840 consumers will lose intensive outpatient services (case management, in-home intervention, assertive community treatment, day treatment, partial hospitalization programs, peer services, etc.).
  • 16,274 consumers will lose routine outpatient services (individual and group therapy, family counseling, psychiatric services, medications, etc.).
  • 2,598 consumers will be unable to access psychiatric stabilization services (crisis residential units, psychiatric inpatient units, etc.).
  • 1,080 community mental health center employees in various counties will lose their jobs.
  • Closure of county satellite treatment programs will result in no community mental health services for those counties.
  • $6 million in federal funding tied to the SAMHSA Mental Health Block Grant will be lost.

Community Intellectual Disability Services impacted:

  • Approximately 1,127 people in the current waiver programs will lose their life-sustaining services, and/or
  • Approximately 2,000 people will lose supported employment and day program supports, and as a result, many of the family members (approximately 2,000+) of these individuals could lose their jobs because they will have to stay home to care for these individuals, further adversely affecting the economy in loss of revenue and productivity.
  • All 5,829 individuals who are currently receiving waiver services could lose approximately 21% of the services they currently receive.
  • A majority of small providers who provide residential and day habilitation programs around the state will go out of business.
  • Over 3,000 individuals currently on the waiting list for waiver services will not receive them.

As someone who has an intellectual disability, this would be very bad!  I have Asperger’s Syndrome, and I know others with intellectual disabilities would be told by the state of Alabama that you suck and you must defend for yourself.  It’s also like having the state giving you the middle finger and a one way ticket out of the state, it’s that bad!

I have created a Change.Org petition that would be sent to the political leaders of Alabama.  As of today, there is only 2 signatures, I know we can do better!  Here is what the petition reads.

The Alabama Legislature is considering some major cuts that would harm the people of Alabama. Everything from the courts, prisons, Medicaid, human resources, veterans, state parks, emergency management, mental health, and anything else under the General Fund budget would be affected.

Hundreds of people would lose their jobs, services would be cut, wait times would be extremely long, and people would suffer if these major budget cuts passed. But, this petition will concentrate on the mental health cuts Alabama would face if the major budget cuts did pass and became law. As you know, I have Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism. People like me who have intellectual disabilities would suffer greatly if these major budget cuts were passed by our legislature. Everyone with an intellectual disability should have the best services available so their lives are filled with promise and hope, not despair and misery.

Mental Health in Alabama would be cut between 15 to 30 percent. If these major budget cuts did happen, $63.78 million in federal matching funds across the mental illness, intellectual disability, and substance abuse services divisions would be eliminated. Coupled with the proposed $35.2 million state funding cut, the state mental health department would be subjected to a total $98.9 million decrease in its funding. That’s almost $100 million cut from mental health programs in Alabama. This would cause extreme hardships in the state and the only people who would be able to get help are those who have a lot of cash.

More than 24,000 would lose mental health services entirely, 589 would lose residential services, and more than 4,800 would lose intensive mental health services. Community mental health centers would be forced to discontinue outpatient mental health services for more than 16,000 people and almost 2,600 will not receive crisis mental health services. For people with intellectual disabilities, 5,829 people currently receiving services through the Federal Intellectual Disability Waiver will have their services reduced by 21 percent, more than 1,100 current waiver slots will be closed and 2,000 individuals will lose work and day supports.

Around 1,100 community mental health program staff throughout Alabama would lose their jobs, on top of the 650 people who have already been laid off. Many satellite mental health centers, often the only mental health provider in rural counties, would be forced to close. If this budget or anything close to it passes, it will dismantle Alabama’s community-based systems of care for people with mental illness and intellectual disabilities. In other terms, if these major budget cuts happen, the Alabama government will basically be saying “screw you” to those with mental health problems or people with intellectual disabilities.

If the major budgets cuts to mental health happened, there would be few to no options for those who lose community-based care, and the state will be at risk of federal litigation. The loss of community-based services would be a civil rights violation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. And organizations like the Alabama Disability Advocacy Program have threatened to re-open a federal lawsuit to make sure all people with mental health problems or intellectual disabilities gets the help they need. In the long run, cutting close to $100 million now will cost the state of Alabama a lot more in the long term.

People with mental health problems or intellectual disabilities have a constitutional right to receive treatment in the least restrictive environment. If the major budget cuts happen, it would cause a cascade of program closures and an explosion of individuals being added to already lengthy waiting lists for services across the state. These people would have little options available and would eventually go onto welfare, food stamps, and/or Social Security Disability because they are not getting the help or opportunities they need to succeed and prosper in Alabama.

The Alabama Legislature needs to realize that cutting close to $100 million from mental health and intellectual disability services will leave a black cloud hanging over the state for years to come. The national media will criticize Alabama for cutting these necessary services and it will slow down and stop the economic development in Alabama. Families and loved ones will suffer because they can’t afford the treatments, people with intellectual disabilities will lose supports and could end up homeless and living on the streets, and unless you have a lot of money, mental health and/or intellectual disability services will be out of the reach of many people, and something that can only be afforded by the rich.

Our lawmakers in Montgomery are about the make Alabama the laughing stock of America once again. Cutting your way to prosperity does not work. Government exists to do things for the common good – things difficult to be done just by single individuals. Cutting mental health and intellectual disability services will result in more people suffering on the streets or in our jails. Even if it means our legislature has to mention the “T” word, and raise some taxes. Funding mental health and intellectual disability services is something the state should be obligated to provide.

To help stop these major and disastrous cuts, please sign this Change.Org petition which will be sent to Governor Bentley, Senate leader Del Marsh, and House leader Mike Hubbard. Thank you for reading!

If you want to sign my petition, go to: https://www.change.org/p/del-marsh-mike-hubbard-governor-robert-bentley-protect-and-save-mental-health-services-in-alabama