Direct service providers rally for more money in the 2022-23 state budget at the Pennsylvania state Capitol on Tuesday, May 24, 2022. (Photo by Amanda Berg for the Capital-Star).
Legislation allocating $100 million in federal funding for mental health services cleared a critical committee hurdle in the state House on Tuesday, putting it on course for a vote by the full chamber.
The majority-Democrat House Human Services Committee voted 21-0 to approve legislation sponsored by Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-Lehigh, that sets down the criteria for spending the one-time infusion of federal American Rescue Plan money.
The vote is a big win for advocates, who were left dangling in 2022, when the Legislature broke for the year without agreeing on how the spend the federal money, the Capital-Star reported at the time.
The guidelines included in Schlossberg’s bill are based on the recommendations of a special commission, comprised of advocates, providers and lawmakers, that was established in the 2022-23 state budget.
That panel called for spending the money this way:
- $37 million towards workforce development.
- $23.5 million to improve the criminal justice system and public safety systems.
- $39 million to expand access and service delivery.
- $500,000 to evaluate the overall impact of the appropriations.
Taking to Twitter on Tuesday morning, Schlossberg praised the panel’s action.
“Our continued work to better mental health care in Pennsylvania takes another step forward today as the House Human Services Committee approved my proposal for increased mental and behavioral health care funding. It’s another step in the long road,” the Lehigh Valley lawmaker wrote.
In a May 18 commentary piece calling for action on Schlossberg’s bill, and a companion Senate bill, one advocate said the legislation “addresses a fundamental challenge Pennsylvanians face: accessibility to services.
“By streamlining access to essential services, the [House and Senate bills] will offer a lifeline to those in need,” Marco Giordano, the CEO of Resource for Human Development, a national human services nonprofit, wrote, adding that the bills “embrace the core principle that everyone deserves the opportunity to lead a fulfilling life and contribute to society regardless of their background. This move not only ensures a robust safety net for vulnerable populations but also recognizes the immense value of preventive care.”
County officials have long called for an increase to the “base” funding they receive from the state to provide mental health services, arguing that county governments are on the frontlines of providing such services.
“Without a considerable increase to the base funding, we are endangering services and creating more pressure on emergency rooms and those providers who are still able to keep their doors open,” Venango County Commissioner Chip Abramovic and Dauphin County Commissioner George Hartwick wrote in a May 12 commentary for the Capital-Star.
On Tuesday, the panel’s chairperson, Rep. Stephen Kinsey, D-Philadelphia, a longtime advocate for mental health causes, credited the panel for its vote.
“Far too many Pennsylvanians across the commonwealth struggle with their mental health, but don’t have easy access to resources that can help them address it,” Kinsey said in a statement. “As a longtime advocate for mental health services, I am pleased to see Rep. Schlossberg’s legislation to tackle this crucial issue voted out of this committee.”
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