Gov. Rauner Budget Cuts to Mental Health Jeopardize Jobs, Jails

Springfield resident Tim Mercier interviewed before he testified before the House Human Services Appropriations Committee on April 1 against Gov. Bruce Rauner's proposed budget cuts to Illinois mental health services, explaining how those services helped turn his life around.

Springfield resident Tim Mercier interviewed before he testified before the House Human Services Appropriations Committee on April 1 against Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed budget cuts to Illinois mental health services, explaining how those services helped turn his life around.

(Springfield, IL) – Governor Bruce Rauner’s proposed budget cuts to Illinois mental health care services would be a blow to job seekers and aggravate the burden on local and state law enforcement officials, says a top mental health advocate.

In Fiscal Year 2016, Rauner is aiming to slice $82 million out of the $459 million in state dollars for the Illinois Department of Human Service’s Division of Mental Health, a 18% cut, according to Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association C.E.O Sara Moscato Howe.

“Governor Rauner’s budget would cut Illinois’ community mental health services budget for the seventh time in eight years,” said Howe. “After seven years of cuts, an 18% reduction will further shred the safety net, undermining individuals’ efforts to secure and maintain stable employment while continuing to convert Illinois prisons and county jails into mental health clinics with bars.”

Statewide, the Governor’s proposed budget cut would mean 7,473 individuals would lose access to mental health care, according to Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association.

Funding for Illinois mental health care has been cut 32% by the legislature since fiscal year 2009.

Howe says that by further cutting mental health care funding even more Illinois residents will go without needed care. Of the 1.53 million Illinois adults having ‘any mental illness’ in the previous year, more than 57% did not receive mental health treatment, she noted.

Howe also warned that the reduction in funding for mental health care services treatment services would undermine employment opportunities.

“Cutting mental health care compromises a person’s opportunity to maintain a job or to be productive,” said Howe. “Any good, modern businessman knows that healthy employees are productive employees. It’s economics 101.”

Howe pointed out that a 2004 randomized trial studying employer costs found that consistently-employed patients in an enhanced depression management program had 8.2% greater productivity and 28.4% less absenteeism over two years than employees receiving ‘usual care’. Moreover, the reduction in absenteeism and increase in productivity had an estimated annual value of $2,601 per full-time equivalent employee.

Howe also said that youth in Illinois are at high risk for mental illness and suicide and more than a third are going untreated.

“Each year between 2009 and 2013, about 88,000 Illinois adolescents’ ages 12-17 report having at least one major depressive episode, while only 37% received treatment for their depression,” said Howe. “More disturbingly, Illinois has more youth, 12.4%, reporting a suicide attempt than a depressive episode, and given that the governor’s budget cuts $200,000 for teen suicide prevention, this problem only worsens.”

Meanwhile, Howe also spotlighted the alarm bells once again set off by Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart who said on April 7 in a media interview that jails are becoming “dumping grounds” for those struggling with mental illness.

“If for some reason people doubt what I’ve been saying about how the jails throughout the country — prisons as well — if they doubt that they have not become dumping grounds for the mentally ill, then I would suggest they come here,” said Dart. “They would see that the divisions for people without mental illnesses are either empty or half-filled. The ones for people with mental illness are filled to capacity, and the areas where we have the most acutely mentally ill people are always over capacity.”

Dart estimates that roughly 30 percent of the 9,000 inmates at the Cook County jail have some form of mental illness.

The sheriff is also warning that the $82 million budget cut to state mental health service proposed by Governor Bruce Rauner will only aggravate the problem.

“I don’t know how the system could sustain that. I mean, the providers that I deal with, the people that I hand folks off to who leave the jail, with the notion that we put a plan together for them to have them leave here and to have a support network in the community so they don’t come back,” said Dart. “Those providers, I don’t know how they’re going to be able to survive. They don’t have any money.”

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