PA Republicans Pit Kids vs. Adults in Fight for $100 Million in Mental Health Funding

State Rep. Mike Schlossberg (D-Lehigh) speaks at a Suicide Prevention Awareness Month event at the State Capitol in Harrisburg on Sept. 19, 2022. (Photo: Pennsylvania House of Representatives)

By Sean Kitchen

July 27, 2023

House Democrats allocated $100 million in American Rescue Plan money for adult mental health services but the Senate GOP cut that funding and shifted it to school based mental health funding.

State Democratic lawmakers and mental health advocates gathered in Harrisburg on Thursday to express dismay at Senate Republicans’ proposed budget, which seeks to eliminate $100 million in recurring funding for school-based mental health and instead shift the same amount of money intended for adult mental health services to fund the school-based care.

The funds Republicans are seeking to repurpose come from President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA)  and were previously allocated to adult-based care. 

“Last year, in a bipartisan fashion, the Senate and the House overwhelmingly approved a budget that allocated $100 million in federal funding to adult based mental health. That money would be spent in accordance with a report submitted by the Behavioral Health Commission,” State Rep. Mike Schlossberg (D-Lehigh) said at Thursday’s press conference.

“In this year’s budget, the Senate went back on their word,” Schlossberg added. “Simply put, they redirected money that had been budgeted for adult base mental health and shifted it to school based mental health. This left patients, healthcare heroes and law enforcement officers behind.”

A $100 million recurring funding stream for school based mental health services was established in the previous budget by former Gov. Tom Wolf, and was supported by Gov. Josh Shapiro in the current budget.  

Senate Republicans slashed that funding stream and instead used the $100 million from the American Rescue Plan Act to fund school based mental health services as a way to lower the total spending numbers in the current budget. 

The move effectively pits adults and children against each other and ensures only one side will get the funding they were promised. As currently written, the Republicans’ cut will make it harder for adults to seek the mental health services that they need.  

This shift in funding would leave mental health patients such as Kate Fetzer, a peer leader with the National Alliance of Mental Health in the Lehigh Valley, behind. 

Fetzer was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 20 years ago, and has struggled with it ever since. On Thursday, she spoke at the press conference about a setback she suffered after her psychiatrist left the practice. 

“I was told there were no other providers, no other appointments. Just ‘sorry, we can’t help you.’ For a person, a patient, who relies heavily on medication for wellness, there was no one to prescribe that medication. This resulted in worsening of the symptoms to the point where I ended up hospitalized,” Fetzer explained. 

Throughout the press conference, Schlossberg and State Sen. Maria Collett (D-Montgomery)—who was a member of the Behavioral Health Commission that deliberated on how to distribute the ARPA funding—both emphasized their support for funding mental health services for students across the commonwealth. 

They were upset with how the Senate’s budget ignored the recommendations of the Behavioral Health Commission and pitted children against adults.

“Please don’t get me wrong. I firmly believe both adult mental health and school based mental health must be better funded, and with a record surplus sitting in reserves, there is no good reason funding for these initiatives must be an either, or proposition,” Collett said.

“The lives of our families, our friends and our neighbors throughout Pennsylvania are on the line, and we need to push this funding out to the people who need it,” she added.

In June, House Democrats passed House Bill 849, which adopted the recommendations by the Behavioral Health Commission on how to allocate the $100 million from the American Rescue Plan for adult mental health funding. The legislation passed by an overwhelming 170 to 30 bipartisan vote. 

HB 849 provides $34 million for workforce development and retention in behavioral health, as well as training, paid internships, loan repayment and tuition assistance for aspiring mental health professionals. The bill allocates another $31.5 million to expand criminal justice and public safety programs, and $18 million would go to suicide prevention programs. 

 

Author

  • Sean Kitchen

    Sean Kitchen is the Keystone’s political correspondent, based in Harrisburg. Sean is originally from Philadelphia and spent five years working as a writer and researcher for Pennsylvania Spotlight.

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