Gov. Ned Lamont Credit: Christine Stuart photo

Gov. Ned Lamont’s $24.2 billion budget relies on substantial federal resources even though his administration says tax receipts remain strong, and one of the largest investments he wants to make is $160 million in new behavioral health funding. 

“The isolation and restrictions related to the pandemic have especially intensified the mental health needs of the state’s youngest citizens,” the budget reads.

It goes on to say: “The pandemic greatly impacted the state’s behavioral health system. More people than ever are dealing with mental health and substance use issues exacerbated by the pandemic.” 

Connecticut’s largest healthcare union doesn’t believe it’s enough. 

“Connecticut is experiencing a crisis in mental health care, and my colleagues and I have watched with horror as the state’s failure to fill hundreds of staff vacancies and sufficiently fund mental health services has compromised our ability to provide lifesaving care for people who need it,” Brian Williams, an addiction counselor at Connecticut Valley Hospital, said. “We have seen an overwhelming surge in people seeking mental health services, including among Connecticut’s children. Without access to specialized treatment services – some of which have been shut down due to understaffing – people have nowhere to turn.”

There are several hundred vacancies at the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services that have gone unfilled. The union has been calling for more aggressive incentives to get those positions filled.

Lamont’s budget includes $15 million to develop a new, 12-bed psychiatric unit at Connecticut Children’s Medical Health Center. 

It also includes $26.5 million that would be used to expand mobile crisis intervention services for both adult and pediatric patients.

However, the bulk of that funding will not go to community-based nonprofits that provide those same services under a contract with the state.

The CT Community Nonprofit Alliance was concerned with the proposal. 

“The funding increase we received in 2021 was a great first step in restoring $461 million lost over more than a decade of underfunding,” CT Community Nonprofit Alliance President and CEO Gian Carl Casa said. “While the governor’s budget proposal targets some new initiatives, it doesn’t address the underfunding of the statewide network of community nonprofits that are struggling to continue to operate.”

When it comes to the overall budget, Republican lawmakers said Lamont’s budget optimism is misplaced. 

“We are not going to blow through our spending cap or blow through our revenue cap through gimmicks,” House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said. 

They say the governor has created this shell game to allow for $800 million of additional spending that otherwise would be prohibited under our spending cap.” 

“He’s increasing a lot of spending and has implemented gimmicks to get around the spending cap,” Candelora added. 

House Speaker Matt Ritter said “End around spending caps are a bad idea. But if you’re doing it for a one-time infusion to a certain program or something like that, I think that’s a conversation we can have.” 

Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly said the only reason the budget is on solid footing is the result of the 2017 bipartisan budget, which implemented a spending cap, revenue cap, and volatility cap. 

Office of Policy and Management Secretary Melissa McCaw said about $200 million in spending will need to be reassessed in two or three years because it’s unclear how much of that is COVID-related and how much of that will continue to be necessary. 

She said there’s room under the cap for the spending.