June 24, 2024

Newsom’s mental health plan would take $700 million from services, and redirect money to housing for the homeless

The great praise of California Gov. Gavin Newsom to overhaul his state’s mental health system over $700 million from annual services provided by county governments and redistribute some of that money to housing for the homeless, according to a new assessment by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO). ).

Newsom and state lawmakers are pushing for sweeping changes to the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA), which levies a 1% tax on personal income over $1 million to fund mental health services. The governor is asking the California Legislature to put his proposal before voters on the ballot next year along with a $4.68 billion bond to add psychiatric treatment beds across the state.

Most of the revenue from the MHSA – at least 95% – currently goes directly to counties, which use it to support various mental illness treatment services. The law establishes broad categories for how counties can spend the funding, but counties have the flexibility to direct much of the resources as they see fit.

Newsom’s proposal would still see 92% of the funding going to counties but would shift the focus of allocations towards housing and full-service partnerships (FSPs), which are comprehensive programs for people diagnosed with serious mental illness. The new measures would also impose stricter rules on how counties can spend the money, reducing their choice and flexibility.


Nurse Michelle Absher (left) administers medicine to Breana Blueford’s eye at the Dore Urgent Care clinic, a crisis drop-in center for mental health needs, in San Francisco, June 10, 2019. (Gabrielle Lurie/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

Specifically, counties would have to spend 35% of the funding on SSA programs and 30% on “housing interventions.” Half of the final funds would need to be used for new housing for people who are “chronically homeless.”

The category that gives counties the biggest spending option under Newsom’s proposal is Behavioral Health Services and Supports (BHSS), which would receive 30% of the funding for various mental health services not provided under FSPs.

According to the LAO’s analysis, counties would need to significantly increase spending on SSAs by $121 million, or 23%, and on housing by $493 million, or 218%, to meet the proposed funding targets.

At the same time, counties would have to redirect or cut spending on BHSS programs from about 60% of MHSA dollars to a maximum of 30%. That would result in a $719 million reduction in various mental health services under the BHSS category, from $1.34 billion to $621 million, according to the Foundation. LAO assessment.

“We see that the governor’s proposal would reduce overall county discretion and likely cause counties to spend less on some existing programs,” the LAO report says, adding that the Newsom administration has not provided an assessment of how proposed changes might the presence of the governor. “current negative impact [mental health] services” so he has to answer key questions about his plan.

Democratic California Gov.  Gavin Newsom

Gavin Newsom attends a press conference in Half Moon Bay, California, January 24, 2023. (Dai Sugano/MediaNews Group/East Bay Times via Getty Images)

Critics argued that Newsom’s proposed changes would result in significant cuts to existing programs, including those that support children.

“We see that the administration’s justification for its proposed changes is incomplete, and we ask the legislature some questions to ask the administration to assess whether the proposal is justified,” wrote the LAO.


The analysis then goes on to list questions it recommends the legislature ask Newsom, including one that addresses a key criticism of the governor’s proposal — that it could pit mental health programs against human services. homeless.

“While research supports the administration’s proposed interventions to improve outcomes for individuals experiencing or at risk of homelessness, MHSA’s services benefit a broader population of Californians,” the LAO report states.

“As a result, some MHSA beneficiaries may no longer receive certain services under the proposal. On the net, can the administration provide evidence that it is likely to result in better behavioral health outcomes for the population as a whole proposal? Why does the administration plan to use the MHSA versus other funds to support the priorities outlined in the proposal?”

The LAO also notes that the Newsom administration “has not yet adequately communicated” how its proposal “complements” a major initiative recently approved by the legislature — the Behavioral Health Bridge Housing Program — to provide housing support to people homeless with behavioral health conditions.


Overall, California has the most homeless people of any state. On one night last year, 30% of all homeless people in the country, or 171,521 people, were in California, according to data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

New York was the state with the second highest number of homeless people, at just 13% of the country’s total, or 74,178 people.

Homeless people on the streets of Los Angeles, California on February 16, 2022.

Homeless people on the streets of Los Angeles February 16, 2022 (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

The IS HUD details also showed that the Golden State accounted for half of all homeless individuals in the country, or 115,491 people, which was more than nine times the number of homeless people in the next state, Washington.

California also had the highest homelessness rate, with 44 homeless people out of every 10,000 people in the state. According to HUD data, Texas and Florida had high overall homelessness, but their homelessness rates were lower than the national average of 18 per 10,000 (12 per 10,000 in Florida and eight per 10,000 someone in Texas. ).

CalMatters noted in a recent report that while the Lone Star State recorded a 28% drop in homelessness since 2012, California’s homeless population grew 43% over the same period. Los Angeles was the epicenter of this surge in homelessness.

California has spent more than $20 billion on housing and homelessness since 2018, and Newsom announced his intention to redirect nearly one-third of MHSA money to address homelessness.

Two-thirds of homeless people have mental health problems, but loss of income is the No. 1 factor. 1 is driving the state’s homelessness crisis, according to a recent study by the University of California, San Francisco.

A spokesperson for Newsom acknowledged that the homeless crisis has worsened and said that is one reason the proposed changes are necessary.

“The world has changed, and so must the Mental Health Services Act. … The status quo of the MHSA is not acceptable because there are reactions throughout society that have caused the gaps in care to change,” said the – Fox News Digital spokesperson. “California’s most pressing needs have also changed. The long-standing challenges of substance use, community mental health capacity and homelessness have only worsened in the intervening years.”


The spokeswoman said the proposed changes are difficult but necessary to address priorities such as “housing for people living in tents with untreated mental illness or substance use,” as well as other mental health issues.

Aside from homelessness, another LAO question addresses the potential trade-offs of reducing spending flexibility at the county level and putting more power in the hands of the California state administration.

A homeless man

Henry knows that Valerie does not want to return to the motel room because of the rats. So, he reaches out to supporters for help getting a room in a new motel in Los Angeles May 8, 2021. (Barbara Davidson/Getty Images)

“In effect, the proposal shifted the discretion in setting MHSA funding priorities from the counties to the administration,” according to the LAO. “This may deprive the state of expertise at the county level in terms of implementing programs and understanding the needs of their residents.

“The legislature may want to ask the administration, along with counties, about the trade-offs associated with reducing county flexibility in MHSA spending. Additionally, the legislature should consider whether the move toward a top-down approach to the use of MHSA funds consistent with the legislature’s vision for the program.”

The LAO also recommends that the legislature ask the Newsom administration for more information about the impact of its plan on individual counties.

Newsom’s spokesman emphasized that the MHSA’s changes would “retain local flexibility to match local needs and priorities” and create greater transparency and accountability.


“Yes, this means disrupting the status quo,” said the spokesperson. “But what’s more disturbing is seeing people still suffering on the streets with ineffective interventions and not being able to access much-needed treatment.”

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