Lehigh Valley Dem keeping up budget push for $100M mental health program

Rep. Mike Schlossberg, who’s been public with his own mental health battles, says he wants to ‘move the conversation’ on the issue

By: - July 7, 2022 10:50 am
Direct service providers rally for more money in the 2022-23 state budget at the Pennsylvania state Capitol on May 24, 2022 in Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo by Amanda Berg, for the Capital-Star).

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).

A Lehigh Valley lawmaker wants to increase funding for mental health programs statewide, but he said it’s difficult to say whether his proposal will be included in the delayed 2022-23 state budget. 

Rep. Mike Schlossberg, an Allentown Democrat, is still fighting for $100 million to be spent on a new statewide mental health program called, “HOPE for PA,” as budget talks extend a week past the June 30 deadline. 

The proposal would include $40 million for public safety to enhance their mental health services, $30 million to assist with provider and capacity shortages and $30 million for training, education and outreach, according to Schlossberg’s office. The centerpiece of the plan would be to cover the cost of social workers becoming regular members of police departments across the state, according to Schlossberg.

Schlossberg told the Capital-Star that he’s hopeful that the state’s multi-billion dollar budget surplus gives it a better chance for funding. 

“The primary goal of introducing ‘Hope for PA’ was obviously to get it enacted,” Schlossberg said. “That being said, it’s very difficult to go from zero to $100 million in a very specific plan.” 

If nothing else, Schlossberg said he hopes to “move the conversation as it comes to mental health.” 

Inspiration for the plan came from speaking with public officials in his district that have faced challenges surrounding mental health in their areas of expertise, including local police departments, Schlossberg said. 

The Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association and the Pennsylvania State Lodge Fraternal Order of Police did not respond in time for publication. 

Kenneth Certa, government relations chair of the Pennsylvania Psychiatric Society, said that the organization is happy to hear that Schlossberg is “continuing his strong advocacy for the community of individuals with mental health and substance use disorders.” 

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“It is heartening to see the recognition of the many levels of intervention which will help the system work better, from education and training of police officers to direct salary support for front line staff in mental health clinics,” Certa said in a statement. “No one intervention can be expected to have much effect; approaching the system as a whole is the smart way to go.” 

The 998 National Suicide Prevention Hotline system launches on July 16, Certa pointed out, so he expects an increase in referrals for care. 

“We look forward to working with Representative Schlossberg, the legislature and the Wolf administration to ensure that this investment in the mental health of our citizens pays the dividends which we know it can,” he said. 

Being a member of the minority party provides an extra challenge in trying to win the funds he is asking for, Schlossberg said, but he still found that members of both parties mostly agreed that these funds are needed to support mental health plans.

Schlossberg recently found success in passing two bills – HB1561 and HB1563 – through the House and the Senate that would allow healthcare providers, facilities and health plans to share information related to patient mental health and substance use disorder more easily. They now wait for Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s signature. 

“I was honored to work with Speaker of the House Bryan Cutler and Representative Frank Farry on these bills and I look forward to continuing that bipartisan cooperation on improving the mental health care system with additional colleagues from both parties,” Schlossberg said after the bills were passed. He added that he is optimistic that Wolf will sign both bills into law. 

County mental health and drug and alcohol programs took a massive funding hit during former Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration. Wolf’s 2022-23 state budget proposal would restore funding by about $36 million to those programs, but it is unclear if these funds have remained as they were planned, during the ongoing budget negotiations. 

Erica Clayton Wright, spokesperson for the Senate Republican Caucus, confirmed that budget negotiations “are deteriorating,” in an email on Thursday. 

Wolf’s spokesperson, Elizabeth Rementer, told the Capital-Star in an email that the administration is prioritizing mental health services for adults and for schools as part of the budget agreement, but she did not provide more detail about funding for Schlossberg’s plan.

Jaxon White is a summer intern for the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents Association. Follow him on Twitter @Jaxon__White.

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Jaxon White
Jaxon White

Jaxon White is a summer intern for the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents Association, and a student at Bucknell University, where is editor of the campus newspaper.