A new national survey found that three years after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School only 11 states have steadily increased funding for mental health care.
Connecticut was one of the 11 states that saw an increase in funding every year since the 2012 mass shooting, according to a survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The Nutmeg State was joined by Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia, and Washington.
The report also found 23 states increased mental health spending in 2015, compared to 36 states in 2013 and 29 in 2014. It’s the third year in a row the number of states willing to increase spending on mental health shrank.
Fewer than half of states increased their mental health budgets this year. The rest reduced funding, including three states that have been in steady decline for three years — Alaska, North Carolina, and Wyoming.
Since 2013, which coincides with recovery from an economic recession, states cut $4.35 billion from the overall mental health care system, the report found.
There were other measures states took that didn’t necessarily coincide with an increase in funding, which NAMI also applauded. The report found that legislation in 2015 addressed broad systemic issues such as Medicaid, insurance parity, workforce capacity, school-based mental health, criminal justice, and suicide prevention.
But there were disturbing trends, too. The survey found scant attention was paid to early identification and early intervention, school-linked mental health services or housing and employment, even though, according to NAMI, those programs are critical in supporting individual well-being and are a long-term, cost-effective use of taxpayer dollars.
NAMI applauded Connecticut for passing legislation earlier this year clarifying that individual health plans must cover “nervous conditions” and legislation that requires school-based health programs to include screening for behavioral or disciplinary problems. The state also required that behavioral health be included in the health plan compliance survey and Consumer Report Card.
Daniela Giordano, public policy director for NAMI’s Connecticut chapter, said Connecticut stands out as a leader in funding mental health services and services that go beyond direct care, such as investments in supportive housing.
But the numbers aren’t adding up for everyone in Connecticut.
Heather Gates, CEO of Community Health Resources, said Tuesday that it’s hard to assess Connecticut’s funding from a “macro level” because money may be allocated as part of the budget, but it never makes its way to the private nonprofit providers who actually provide most of the services.
She said money may have been allocated, but it was taken back before it could be spent.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was given broad authority unilateral authority Tuesday by legislators to cut up to $93 million from the current budget. Gates said she’s not certain mental health or behavioral health services won’t be cut in the future as a result of that language.
But at the moment, she’s grateful the funding was restored.
“I’d rather have it restored and live with uncertainty,” Gates said.