OP-ED: Rauner Administration 2018 Behavioral Healthcare Budget Fails to Meets its Ambitions

OP-ED: The Rauner Administration’s proposed FY 2018 budget for the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) falls dramatically short of the governor’s stated ambition to place behavioral health care at the center of a human services transformation. The money requested and the ambition articulated fail to align.

According to the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget FY 2018 budget book, less than half of the 750,000 people needing mental health treatment in Illinois actually received treatment, but the governor’s proposed budget fails to address this need. In fact, 80,000 people in Illinois have lost access to needed mental health services. This proposed budget also fails to restore the community behavioral health community infrastructure – counselors, case managers, community programs, and facilities that have been pulverized into dust – by the budget impasse that has ravaged community care providers over the last 22 months.

Yet, the governor’s appropriation request for the Division of Mental Health is $36 million less than the FY 2015 GRF actual expenditures. $36 million less. The governor’s stated aim of reducing institutional care and increasing community-based services cannot be achieved with this proposed budget. In fact, it goes backwards.

The governor’s proposed FY 18 DHS budget for the Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse (DASA) is no better.

In the DASA budget, there is no recognition of the heroin and opioid wildfire blazing across the state, especially in southern Illinois, suburban counties and on the Westside and Southside of Chicago. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, a broad swath of southern Illinois counties has been walloped by a 200% plus increase of opioid related overdose deaths between 2010- 2015, with 57% to 74% being between the ages of 25-44. Those numbers are projected to increase. In fact, 24,000 fewer Illinoisans have received addiction treatment services.

Yet, the governor’s appropriation request for DASA is $26 million less than the FY 2015 GRF actual expenditures.

Community providers struggle to operate under a climate of uncertainty of payments. Compounding that problem of payment uncertainty is the problem of potential deeper cuts. ‘Doing more with less’ is fine for a bumper sticker or a campaign speech, but doing with less, in a reality based world in which the books need to be balanced, gets you less. Period.

In the case of behavioral healthcare, getting less means that an untreated mental health crisis can cost a mother her job or, worse, 10 days in county jail. Untreated heroin addiction can cost a life. You can’t put a crisis on a waiting list.

Finally, the two-year budget ordeal has forced longer, bulging client waiting lists, program cuts, agency closures, and employee layoffs in community mental health and addiction agencies across the state. In a March 2017 United Way of Illinois “Stop Gap” survey, 33% of community mental health providers have reduced the number of individuals they can now serve.

The impasse has struck at many constituents of Illinois lawmakers. We encourage legislators, no, we plead with them, to, please, find the will to compromise, to find a way forward. Your constituents are depending on you.

Now is the time for the executive and legislative branches to set partisan politics aside and pass a responsible budget. We insist on an immediate resolution to this crisis.

Is this too much to ask?

Marvin Lindsey, CEO, Community Behavioral Healthcare Association of Illinois

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