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Counties Face Uncertainty on State Funding for Mental Health Services
By Robert Swift
Capitolwire Staff Reporter

HARRISBURG (Aug. 2) — County officials face some uncertainty in running their basic mental health programs upon learning they get flat funding under the new state budget.

Getting a level amount of state aid means counties will have difficulty reducing waiting lists for services which are widespread, hiring to address staff shortages, and expanding services to meet various mental health needs, said Lisa Schaefer, executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, on Tuesday.

“We are certainly disappointed,” she said. “There is certainly a lot of good increased funding could do.”

CCAP learned this week there is no increase in that line item as analysis continues with the Fiscal Year 2022/23 budget enacted early last month.

CCAP is part of a coalition that lobbied this year to end level state funding for basic county mental health services for the past 11 years. Gov. Tom Wolf proposed a $36.6 million increase to restore much of a decade-old cut in state aid to county-run mental health programs, but that didn’t make the final budget enacted last month.

Instead the budget provides an additional $53 million for assorted mental health-related needs, including the county programs and state-run hospitals.

“Counties can continue to get grants for mental health programs from the Department of Human Services under the Community Mental Health Services Block Grant (CMHSBG),” said DHS spokesman Brandon Cwalina.

“This funding supports counties in their planning and implementation of mobile crisis services, as well as crisis receiving and stabilization services, that meet national standards for crisis intervention services,” he said.

“It can also be used to support service expansion efforts that ensure a full continuum of community crisis intervention services for anyone regardless of insurer or ability to pay…” said Cwalina. “Counties have until 2025 to use the funds available through these CMHSBG grant allocations to continue the building of crisis mental health service infrastructures across the commonwealth.”

And the budget directs $100 million in unspent federal COVID relief funds for general mental health programs and an additional $100 million in COVID funds for school mental health grants.

The one-time funding comes after lawmakers of both parties said this year that more needs to be done to address mental health issues among Pennsylvanians.

Counties could get a share of that, but Schaefer said annual funding is needed to rebuild the counties network of mental health programs.

The $100 million for general mental health programs can’t be spent until a new special state commission meets and makes recommendations for to how to spend it the money and the Legislature passes enabling legislation.

Whether that happens during the remainder of Gov. Tom Wolf’s term or after a new governor takes office next January is uncertain.

The 24-member Behavioral Health Commission for Adult Mental Health is charged with considering funding for the following areas: telemedicine services, mental and behavioral payment parity, workforce development and retention, expansion of peer support services, crisis services, integration of behavioral support and substances abuse disorder treatment, cultural issues in providing behavioral health care, impact of health on behavioral health, intersection of behavioral health and the criminal justice system, and timely delivery of psychiatric care.

The commission composed of state officials and legislative appointees, is supposed to hold its first meeting by September and hold at least two meetings, one with rural care providers and law enforcement and one with urban or suburban providers and law enforcement.

Counties will have a representative on the commission who can advocate for funding, said Schaefer.

“The $100 million in ARPA funding and the grants available through the CMHSBG are a start, but further investment will be necessary to support growing behavioral health care needs,” said Cwalina. “The Wolf administration is encouraged by the General Assembly’s recognition of ongoing need through their establishment of the Behavioral Health Commission for Adult Mental Health, and we hope the recommendations adopted by the commission will be considered for future investments outside of ARPA funds.”


RCPA has been asked to be a part of the Behavioral Health Commission process and will continue its collective efforts with the Mental Health Safety Net Coalition to create sustainable pathways for all mental health funding platforms in Pennsylvania.

If you have any questions, please contact your RCPA Policy Director.

The sustained funding of community-based mental health services, such as community residential programs, family-based support, outpatient care, and crisis intervention, are critical to the wellbeing of our constituents and our communities. Funding levels for county mental health services have direct impacts on whether these important community and family supports will be available. Yet for too many years, state funding for mental health services has lagged far behind its needs. Counties find themselves advocating to prevent funds from being cut instead of achieving the increases that are needed to catch up from years of underfunding.

This year, RCPA and other system stakeholders have teamed with the County Commissioner Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP) through the Mental Health Safety Net Coalition. We join this campaign to bring awareness of the critical funding needs of mental health services for vulnerable Pennsylvanians. We ask our members, stakeholders, and partners to join us in this collaborative effort by engaging with your legislators. “County mental health services provide a critical piece to the public safety net for people in need,” notes Richard S. Edley, PhD, President and CEO of RCPA. “The system sustained cuts over a decade ago with little relief since then. It is time to restore those dollars and further enhance the system. Not only will it provide critical funding for the individuals receiving services, but there are positive benefits — both financially and clinically — to the entire community.”

The time to act is now for engaging with your representative, as local communities and providers have come together to sustain the safety net and serve those who need it most. The reality is that the demand for service far outweighs capacity and rate structures to serve this population. CCAP has created the following materials to assist in providing strategic talking points for our outreach:

If you have further thoughts or questions, please contact your RCPA Policy Director.

Registration, directions, and required documentation are below

Juvenile Detention Centers and Alternative Programs (JDCAP) and the ALICE Training Institute have teamed up to bring ALICE Instructor Training to Consumer Service Professionals and County Agencies at the County Commissioners Association of PA (CCAP) office on September 3-4, 2019. This two-day instructor course is designed to teach proactive survival strategies for violent intruder or active shooter incidents. The goal of the ALICE program is to provide individuals with survival-enhancing options for those critical moments in the gap between when a violent situation begins and when law enforcement arrives on scene.

ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate and is a useful strategy for everyone: law enforcement, schools, universities, hospitals, businesses, and places of worship. Completing the ALICE Instructor Training course provides individuals with certification in ALICE Training and allows them the opportunity to bring ALICE strategies back to their places of work. Additionally, registrants will gain access to exclusive ALICE resources. ALICE is in line with recommendations from the US Department of Education, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

About ALICE Training Institute
The ALICE Training Institute is changing how schools, universities, and businesses respond to armed intruders. ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate), developed after Columbine, teaches strategies to survive a life-threatening event. Supported by educators and law enforcement across the country, ALICE is quickly becoming the new standard of care.

Registration Flyer   |   Waiver Release

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Today, the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP) sent out a press release, stating that the organization has authorized their counsel to explore options to end the current six month state budget impasse, and to prevent future threats to key human services programs provided at the county level. CCAP will have legal counsel research potential litigation options against the Commonwealth regarding the release of state and federal monies for essential services.