Mental health services, one of the most controversial areas of state Health & Welfare services after recent years’ deep budget cuts, received a 5.2 percent increase in state general funds, 3.6 percent in total funds, under a budget for next year set this morning by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on an 18-1 vote. The budget at this point doesn’t include $466,900 for regional behavioral health boards - which Gov. Butch Otter has recommended funding - but the joint committee is just waiting for a germane committee bill on that to make its way through the legislative process; then it can follow up with a trailer bill adding that appropriation.
The successful budget motion was co-sponsored by six JFAC members: Reps. Maxine Bell and Thyra Stevenson, and Sens. Sheryl Nuxoll, Dan Schmidt, Steven Thayn and Steve Vick. Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, who cast the only "no" vote, said, “We’re tending to deal with these issues at a crisis level that’s both costly and painful. I know that we’re dealing with legislation to put those regional boards in place.” She questioned as that goes forward, however, whether the state has the infrastructure, providers and facilities to adequately provide the services. “It feels like kind of a baby step toward addressing a huge problem,” Ringo said.
The same group of six JFAC members crafted budget motions that passed unanimously for the divisions of Psychiatric Hospitalization and Substance Abuse Treatment and Prevention, as well as the divisions of Child Welfare and Services for the Developmentally Disabled, all divisions within the Department of Health & Welfare. Among the changes reflected in those budgets is the transfer of grant-funded substance abuse treatment services from the governor's Office of Drug Policy to the state Department of Health & Welfare, to allow the drug policy office to focus more on prevention.
All the motions came in at or below the governor's recommended funding level; they include the governor's recommended $516,000 boost in foster family reimbursement payments next year.