Connecticut officials commemorated an investment in children’s mental health Wednesday during a ceremonial bill signing event for legislation designed to shore up a behavioral health system exposed as inadequate during the pandemic.
Flanked by legislators from both parties, Gov. Ned Lamont signed off on three bills which collectively dedicate more than $100 million to fund services like school-based health centers, early childhood education slots, and recruitment and training efforts to increase the number of mental health providers in the state.
“It’s not every day we do important things, and I think, today, together we’re doing something incredibly important and I’m so proud that Connecticut is a leader where it really makes a difference,” Lamont said before signing the bills.
Lawmakers made kids’ mental health a priority during this year’s legislative session. During public hearings they heard reports of children in crisis and parents, met with long waiting lists for services, resorting to bringing their kids to emergency departments for treatment.
On Wednesday, Sen. Doug McCrory, D-Hartford, said it was heartening to see lawmakers working together to assist parents and children who experienced increased trauma during the pandemic.
“Thank you Connecticut for listening to the concerns of parents and children who don’t have the voice like we do. But I think all my colleagues on both sides of the aisle understood that and it was the easiest piece of legislation that I ever passed with this amount of money,” McCrory said. “With this amount of money, I’ve never seen this before but it’s a good thing we got it done.”
Rep. Liz Linehan, D-Cheshire, said that money included in the bill will begin to fund programs, including outpatient treatment for kids in Waterbury, as soon as this summer.
During the event, policymakers were asked whether the state had adequately funded behavioral health programs for young people since the Sandy Hook shooting nearly a decade ago. Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor, said the recommendations drafted after the incident had not always been followed due to fiscal constraints.
There was criticism in 2015 that the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission’s recommendations would fall short due to the lack of funding for mental health in the 2016 budget.
Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, who attended the event in support of the legislation, balked at the notion that the state did not have the resources to fund the mental health recommendations.
“They were in charge and budgets are about priorities,” Kelly told reporters. “So I don’t want to hear the majority say there wasn’t any money for it. If it was a priority for them, they could afford it.”