The impasse is over, but Pennsylvania counties – and their residents – still need help

News Date: Thursday, August 3, 2023

State Capitol
While counties value this closure, there remains much work to be done on counties’ top priorities of mental health funding.
Pennsylvania counties acknowledge and appreciate the state ending the FY 2023-2024 budget impasse before crippling effects took place. Payments from the state for critical services such as mental health, child welfare, substance abuse programs, homeless services and other human services can now resume, and counties will not have to face the financial uncertainty that comes along with an extended impasse.  While counties value this closure, there remains much work to be done on counties’ top priorities of mental health funding.

The fact that the FY 2023-2024 budget continues to leave Pennsylvania’s community mental health system in dire straits cannot be dismissed. The General Assembly and Governor Shapiro had an opportunity to make a significant investment in the community mental health base that would begin the critical work of stabilizing and rebuilding our crumbling mental health system, with that investment coming directly back to Pennsylvanians over the long term. The $20 million increase to the county mental health base is certainly a step in the right direction, although we cannot stop here as the 3% increase it represents is not nearly reflective of the impact of 15 years without any increases, much less the impact of inflation or increased need that our counties see each and every day.

And while an additional $100 million has been allocated to our schools for school mental health funding, these are federal, one-time, American Rescue Plan dollars – so that the only significant resources being invested in mental health services this year will be seen in only one setting, with no guarantee that additional funds will be available to backfill this investment when the federal dollars are no longer available next year.
These investments are a start to supporting mental health, but the state needs to get serious about a long-term vision and plan for mental health in the commonwealth. These piecemeal investments are not sustainable for a system in crisis and our system is on the brink of collapse. We are now kicking the can down the road for another year while the services Pennsylvanians use every day continue to falter, meaning too many people will end up in our emergency rooms because there aren’t enough crisis services.

Real life consequences of this underfunding are here and will continue to get worse.  Those who call the 988 suicide and crisis lifeline may not have access to convenient, timely and ongoing mental health services after their crisis is stabilized. Too many people will end up in our jails and prisons because untreated mental health issues led to an interaction with the criminal justice system. More and more children and adolescents will have to wait for referrals to mental health services once they step off the school bus or go home for their summer break because providers simply cannot keep up with ever-increasing demand. The list goes on and on.

This lack of investment in mental health will cost Pennsylvania not only money long-term, but it will cost the residents of this commonwealth their ability to secure adequate mental health services directly impacting the quality of their lives and their communities.
Funding for mental health services has been a priority for counties for years.  We continue to wait for our state partners to make this a priority as well.