Commentary, NC Budget and Tax Center, Raising the Bar 2015

Raising the bar: The Governor’s HHS budget proposal for behavioral health

Editor’s note: This is the latest installment in “Raising the Bar” — a new series of essays and blog posts authored by North Carolina nonprofit leaders highlighting ways in which North Carolina public investments are falling short and where and how they can be improved.

Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget proposal for the years 2015-17 offers a welcome change of direction in the area of behavioral health services, which would see spending increase by 1.5 percent compared to current law. Though far from what is really needed, this modest increase would be a real turnaround from years past when lawmakers imposed significant cuts to programs and direct services as a way to balance the budget and make up for revenues lost to tax cuts. We are pleased to see the Governor’s support for restoring some funding to the health and human service budget to serve citizens with mental health, intellectual or developmental disabilities, and substance use disorder services.

In addition to stopping most of the bleeding, this money would help the state to catch up on at least some of what was lost during the recession and begin to rebuild to address current needs. Furthermore, over the past few years, lawmakers enacted provider rate cuts year after year. Under the Governor’s plan, there are no further provider rate cuts.

Some new things to take note of that we are very heartened to see: almost $24 million is invested in services for mental health treatment in our prisons. This is the first time funding has been allocated specifically for this kind of treatment. With this money, 72 beds that are not open due to budget constraints at Central Prison’s mental health hospital can be fully staffed. Additionally, behavioral health treatment units can be opened at eight high security prisons. Funding was put in the budget to support the Treatment Alternatives for Safer Communities (TASC) program. TASC integrates community mental health and substance use disorder services with the criminal justice system to improve outcomes. The funding, about $1.86 million, will reduce caseloads of care managers to accommodate more referrals. Read more