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Mental health groups press for new funding from NY lawmakers

February 4, 2020 GMT

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Mental health interests urged New York lawmakers to funnel more funding toward human service nonprofits on Monday, saying the organizations have faced lacking support from the state in the recent past.

Dozens of human service groups are pushing this session for an annual 3% funding increase over the next five years for nonprofits in the field. The coalition, representing thousands of providers, includes groups that address child welfare, mental health and developmental disabilities.

The Mental Health Association in New York State says many of their members are fiscally unstable and are in jeopardy of closing due to a lack of funding.

The mental health organization said services are declining and facilities are deteriorating at certain human service nonprofits, with some organizations forced to establish waiting lists.

Glenn Liebman, the association’s CEO, described the situation as a “crisis” and said people and families are suffering.

“We’re not here to blame or to point fingers. We’re here for fixes and yes these fixes cost money,” he told a panel of lawmakers Monday.

Wendy Burch, executive director at the National Alliance on Mental Illness New York State, said supporting people with mental illness can prevent incarceration, long-term hospitalization, homelessness and their risk of suicide. The seriousness of the issue, she said, is shown in how many human service providers are backing the campaign for more funds.

Cuomo’s office says their budget proposal recommends an annual $170 million for pay increases to clinical and direct care staff.

Liebman said he’s grateful for the proposed funding, but the money would be specified for wage increases and does not allow nonprofit service providers to spend the money elsewhere, like on adding new programs, fixing facilities or dealing with the rising cost of health care insurance.

A March report from the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School found there was a 26% drop in state funding in human service aid to local governments from fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2018. The report said the cuts have come even as the state’s economy has grown since the Great Recession.

According to the report, suburban counties in downstate New York were hit hardest by the cuts to local aid, including Nassau County, which saw a 40% drop in state funding for local aid for human services from 2011 to 2017.

Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, who represents a swath of Sullivan County, indicated her support for additional funds and said most of those workers are women.

“It’s just not a living wage,” she said. “It’s just not and (we’ve) lagged behind for years and years before. We’re doing some catch up, but we really have to do more.”

Ann Sullivan, commissioner of the Office of Mental Health, said she told lawmakers there are pay raises for direct care and clinical workers.

Cuomo is proposing to increase funding for the Office of Mental Health by 1.1% to $4.5 billion. State lawmakers spent Monday weighing in on other parts of the governor’s budget, commenting on issues like suicide and school mental health.

Under Cuomo’s budget proposal, $1 million in new money would be directed to suicide prevention efforts for veterans, law enforcement and corrections officers.

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Ryan Tarinelli is a corps member for Report for America, a nonprofit organization that supports local news coverage in a partnership with The Associated Press for New York. The AP is solely responsible for all content.