In the midst of ongoing dialogue about mental health stemming from recent shootings across the nation, Gov. Scott Walker will pursue an increase in mental health funding by about $29 million from state taxpayer funds in his proposed budget for this session.
According to a Wednesday statement from Walker’s spokesperson, this increased funding will go toward supporting and expanding state and local government-sponsored mental health services.
“Earlier this year, I met with mental health professionals, advocates and consumers from across Wisconsin, and they gave me some tremendous insights into the needs of people living with mental health challenges,” Walker said in the statement. “Our budget investment will provide additional resources to improve and expand care, as well as give support to those living with mental illness.”
According to the statement, this extra $29 million would fund an expansion in both Comprehensive Community Services, a community care facility for people of all ages suffering from severe mental illnesses, and Coordinated Services Team, community-based care for youth.
The funding will also establish an Office of Children’s Mental Health to ensure suitable mental health care to children, increase funding for in-home counseling for children and increase the capacity of forensic units at the Mendota Health Institute.
Barbara Beckert, Disability Rights Wisconsin spokesperson, said expanding mental health care has been contested for a while, but may be a more urgent discussion in light of recent violence seen in schools across the country. Mental health care took special prominence after a shooter killed 26 students and teachers at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., late last year.
She also stressed the decision to bump up funding as a result of Wisconsin’s mental health system’s poor rankings.
Whereas most of the country has statewide mental health systems, Wisconsin’s mental health system runs on a county-to-county basis, making it more difficult to get patients the help they need. According to Beckert, 42 out of the 72 counties in Wisconsin choose not to keep up with mental health standards because of the cost.
However, Beckert said with increased funding, more counties are likely to get on board and start making changes.
Kit Kerschensteiner, Disability Rights Wisconsin managing attorney, said this extra funding could not have come sooner and said she hopes such a measure will “help prevent crisis before it happens.”
“Some counties were reluctant because they need to put in the cash, so this program helps with that,” Kerschensteiner said. “The mental health infrastructure in Wisconsin has never been well-funded, and it has deteriorated in recent years.”
The extra money these programs receive will go toward better, more flexible support for both children and adults with mental illness and focus on individual rehabilitation and education as opposed to institutionalization, Kerschensteiner said.
Both Kerschensteiner and Beckert said this is a historic step in the right direction but maintained Walker is strictly interested in a more comprehensive, effective and uniform mental health care system.
Rep. Sandy Pasch, D-Shorewood, said she supported Walker’s proposal but added he should also focus on the broad health needs of Wisconsinites.
“[Walker's] budget must have a bold focus on the needs of our everyday Wisconsinites – including individuals living with mental illness, as well as their families and our communities – by maintaining and improving vital services everyday Wisconsinites depend on,” Pasch said in a statement.