A bipartisan group of lawmakers has asked Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad to re-allocate existing dollars in the Department of Human Services budget to help counties maintain mental health and disability services.
The five senators, including three from Linn County, say the re-allocation of funds from the High Risk Pool would help ease the impact of Branstad’s veto of an appropriation to make sure critical mental health services remain available, as the state and counties implement a reorganization of the delivery of mental health and disability services.
One of the results of the veto, they said, is the Oct. 1 closure of the Abbe Center for Community Care in Marion, which provided residential care to patients released from more intensive hospital mental health units. Also, there are also reports of growing waiting lists for mental health care in various counties.
The Governor’s Office will review the proposal from the lawmakers in light of maintaining a “sustainable mental health system that benefits all Iowans,” Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht said.
Since the Legislature began its mental health redesign more than two years ago, Iowa has invested more than $115 million in new state funding for mental health services at the county level, he noted.
“With that in mind, our office is committed to reviewing the effectiveness of this additional investment, the progress of mental health redesign and the impact of increased access to mental health services under the bipartisan Iowa Health and Wellness Plan,” Albrecht said.
The governor has the authority to move money around within the DHS budget, the senators said, and they want him to tap the department’s High Risk Pool to make funds available now rather than wait until the Legislature goes back into session in January to make transitions funds available.
“This is something they can do this year,” said Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines.
The senators – Wally Horn, Rob Hogg and Liz Mathis, all Cedar Rapids Democrats, Brad Zaun, an Urbandale Republican, and Hatch – are asking that Branstad and the DHS work with the Risk Pool Board and the Iowa State Association of Counties to develop a process for soliciting applications from counties to identify documented, need-based financial assistance to maintain mental health services. Also, they want all other risk pool funds not otherwise encumbered to be made available to address counties’ needs. Finally, they want DHS funds identified that could be reallocated to address mental health without jeopardizing the agency’s other services.
For their part, the senators said they will support a bipartisan effort to replace the High Risk Pool funds and address additional funding needs in January. Hatch said a “small supplemental appropriation” may be necessary.
Earlier this year, the Legislature approved a statewide reorganization of the delivery of mental health and disability services. The changes should ensure that a standard set of services are available statewide rather than vary from county to county. The change also shifts administration away from individual counties.