My disenchantment with politics has hit a new low. I didn’t think that was possible until I began looking at Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s 2015 budget proposal line-by-line.
I was writing another story on child welfare programs and figured while I was looking at the budget, I might as well look at our governor’s budget proposal for mental health programs. Going straight to the bottom line, I see the governor is proposing spending $2.1 million more than the current fiscal year on adult mental health programs. Good news, right?
I took a gander at funding for strategic priorities:
- Indigent psychiatric medication program: $0 down from $1.5 million this year.
- Maintain funding for adult community mental health services: $4 million, down from $10.2 million..
- Maintain funding for Bay County Assertive Community Treatment Team: $0 down from $1.2 million.
- Community mental health programs in 3 counties: $0 down from $1.9 million.
The only strategic priorities that will see an increase in funding under the governor’s budget is mental health transitional beds, $2.5 million compared to $0 this year and $3 million to restore county criminal justice grants, which received no funding this year.
But under the category “Provide Effective and Enhanced Prevention Services,” which support 7 community crisis stabilization units and other local mental health care programs – the governor is cutting funding for all seven programs.
The governor’s proposed budget would have ticked me off three years ago – at the height of the recession – but it infuriates me now because Florida has a $1.2 billion budget surplus. So a $2.1 million increase for adult mental health care programs amounts to chump change. I mean, really?
The governor claims the three main parts of his “It’s Your Money Tax Cut Budget” are: 1) Creating Jobs for the Next Generation; 2) Investing in Education; and 3) Strengthening Florida Families. If that is true, investing in the state’s mental health care system should be among your top priorities.
If you want to attract business to Florida, you need a healthy and attractive environment. Homelessness and those pesky homeless people pushing grocery carts along the sidewalk or lining the intersections with their “Will Work for Food” signs are not attractive to businesses considering moving to Florida.
Many of our homeless and poor have mental illnesses, such as alcoholism and addiction. And if you can’t muster up the compassion to care for them because it’s the right thing to do, think of it from an economic perspective: Getting those people off the streets is good for business. It’s going to help lure business and tourists – or at least not repel them.
You want to strengthen Florida families? Provide housing, treatment and respite care for our families who are touched by mental illness. That’s just about all of us.
I bumped into an acquaintance last week whose adult brother has schizophrenia. He can’t keep a job and is now living in half of a termite-invested mobile home that would probably have been condemned had she not interceded. Two weeks ago he tried to kill himself – in front of her. They kept him in the hospital for 72 hours – the maximum allowed – and then let him go.”
“There is nothing for him. No safe place for him to go. It’s so sad,” she said.
Sometimes I feel like I’m banging my head against a wall: How can politicians and policy makers not see it? How can they not see the link between the economy and mental illness? How many times do we need to explain that depression is the #1 workplace disability?
If we can’t do the right thing merely for the sake of doing the right thing, let’s do it because it makes financial sense. Let’s do it for the almighty dollar. Let’s just do it.
Stack of pennies available from Shutterstock.