OP-ED: Illinois’ Failure on Mental Health Funding Has Fueled a Crisis. Fair Tax Fix?

Chronic under-funding combined with a spike in mental health and substance use calamities, such as the opioid epidemic, has created an untenable behavioral health crisis in Illinois. More people than ever need the help of the organizations we represent, yet, the State of Illinois falls tens of millions of dollars short year-after-year to meet these needs. The gap grows, people suffer, and the crisis persists.

We have seen how a financially-starved behavioral health system has harmed Illinois families.

Over the past decade, state government funding for community mental health and substance use has plummeted by a combined $140 million. Every year, community-based mental health and substance use providers are faced with the decision of what services to slash, which staff to fire, or whether they will be able to remain open. All the while, the demand for substance use and mental health services escalates without adequate services available due to relentless state government budget cutting. Meanwhile, Illinois faces a surge in suicides, an explosion in opioid related deaths, and an eruption of children exposed to trauma.

Moreover, Illinois Mental health and substance use providers bled financially during the 2015-2017 budget impasse. Community providers who were ‘lucky’ to tap into their reserves and/or extend bank credit lines – as they simultaneously cut care and created interminable waiting lists – are still struggling with the financial fallout. Other providers were not so lucky to survive. They shut their doors. People lost care.

To be clear, people in need of these services simply don’t disappear when the service disappears. They show up in emergency rooms. They lose their jobs, homes. They lose their kids. They end up in jail – or the morgue.

We must reverse this situation in Illinois. But we must first invest in our mental health and substance use programs and at the same time save the state of Illinois money.

And it starts with the Fair Tax fix.

On behalf of Community Behavioral Healthcare Association of Illinois (CHBA), I would like to express our strong support of Governor JB Pritzker’s fair income tax.  CBHA is a statewide association of community behavioral health providers that deliver mental health and addiction treatment, prevention and recovery services to thousands of children, youths, adults and families daily.

Why?

By adopting a progressive tax, generating $3.4 billion annually in new revenue, it will provide Governor Pritzker and lawmakers the money needed to invest in our mental health care services. That investment can begin with the governor and the legislature supporting legislation, The Mental Health Modernization Act, House Bill 2486 and Senate Bill 1673, sponsored by State Rep. Deb Conroy (D-Villa Park) and State Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago).

That legislation would steadily increase state investment in mental health treatment over the next four years by $50 million. The measure would also change how the state regulates and funds mental health providers, ensuring they have the means to innovate to meet patients’ needs, and rewarding those providers who produce good health outcomes.

Most of the new funding would come through the state’s Medicaid program, drawing at least a 50% match in federal dollars. That would limit the state’s out-of-pocket cost to no more than $13 million a year over the four years, above what is spent now on mental health treatment.

The Fair Tax would help pay for the investment in the out years.

Governor Pritzker should be applauded for seeking to put Illinois on a more sound financial path with the Fair Tax. We urge the legislature to support it and place it on the ballot. We will stand with many others encouraging Illinoisans to protect and promote a stronger, more just mental health and substance use system funded by the Fair Tax fix.

We cannot afford to fall short any longer.

Marvin Lindsey, CEO of Community Behavioral Healthcare Association of Illinois

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