Funds meant for mental illnesses 

California’s government has rarely been flush with cash, especially when it comes to funding programs for people with mental illnesses. San Franciscans know the ramifications of this all too well, as people with severe emotional and mental problems shamble through our streets.

In 2004, state voters agreed to do something about this. They passed the so-called millionaire’s tax, a ?1 percent tax hike on people earning more than $1 million a year, to fund mental health services that had been starved for funds.

Thanks to the millionaire’s tax, California has been able to spend an additional $7.4 billion on mental health care; the tax has paid to treat people who would otherwise be left to fend for themselves, burden their families, or cycle in and out of jail.

Unfortunately, $1 out of every $5 may be funding mildly therapeutic programs for people who do not remotely suffer from serious illnesses — or may even be funding frivolous perks for government employees. Meanwhile, the state’s mental health budget has been hit with even deeper cuts.

According to a report by The Associated Press, the now-defunct Department of Mental Health decreed in 2007 that 20 percent of Proposition 63 funds would be spent not on people with severe mentally illnesses, but on prevention and “wellness” programs.

Identifying the early onset of emotional and mental problems is certainly a laudable goal. But as the AP reports, many of these programs devolved into pleasant recreational activities, with just the slightest effect on the participants’ mental health.

Some of the programs cited by the AP report may, in fact, significantly help people. Fresno’s Hmong refugee community, for example, has been notoriously beset by post-traumatic stress disorder, and the $315,000 spent on gardening programs may well ease the nightmares that still come from the Vietnam War.

But other programs seem considerably less defensible. Sweat lodges for Native Americans. Massage chairs for students. In San Francisco, city employees who have  family histories of mental illness enjoy state-sponsored yoga classes.

Perhaps most troubling, no one in state government has bothered to account for all the money that has been spent. No one knows how much money has been directed to such frivolous enterprises. Two state assemblymen, Dan Logue and Brian Nestande, have now called for an audit of Prop. 63 spending.

This is only appropriate, given how little money is available to treat people with severe mental illnesses and how serious mental illness can become. Even in 2007, California was beginning to face a major budget crisis, and Mental Health Department bureaucrats had no business playing games with critically needed funding. Now, as the state is in yet another year of fiscal famine, the time has come to scrupulously examine the merit of each of these “wellness” programs, defund all but the most effective of them and redirect the money to treating the most serious cases.

Proposition 63

$7.4 Billion Amount Prop. 63 raised by placing a 1 percent tax on people making more than $1 million
20% Percentage of Prop. 63 funds redirected to help people who have not been diagnosed with or shown evidence of mental illness
$1.2 Billion Prop. 63 funds that have been spent on prevention and early intervention programs
1,500 New programs created with Prop. 63 funds
$764.8 Million Amount California has cut from mental health spending since 2009

Source: The Associated Press

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