Pennsylvania House OKs $100 million for adult mental health services

$34 million would go toward workforce development and retention in the behavioral health field, including training, paid internships, loan repayment, and tuition assistance.

The Pennsylvania Capitol

The Capitol Building in Harrisburg, Pa. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

A proposal to allocate $100 million in federal funds to pay for adult mental health programs easily passed the Pennsylvania House of Representatives on Wednesday, a plan built on the recommendations of a state commission charged with issuing suggestions for coordinated care.

The bill passed 173-30 and was sent to the Senate. A spokesman for Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro said that he supports the legislation.

The American Rescue Plan Act money would bolster the behavioral health industry’s workforce, improve the criminal justice and public safety systems and expand access to support.

“It is a little strange to talk about $100 million as a number that is both large and small, but that’s actually what we’re looking at here. This money will have a deeply personal impact on people across the commonwealth,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mike Schlossberg, a Lehigh County Democrat. “That being said, if we are talking about unmet mental health needs, this money is truly just a drop in the bucket.”

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The measure stems from the effort that began last session when the Legislature created the Behavioral Health Commission on Adult Mental Health. The 24 members — from the behavioral health field, state agencies, and a variety of communities — were told to determine how to divvy up federal funds designated for such uses.

The largest chunk of funds, $34 million, would go toward workforce development and retention in the behavioral health field, which would include training, paid internships, loan repayment, and tuition assistance.

About $32 million would address criminal justice and public safety programs through grants administered by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. Sponsors said it would help reduce recidivism.

Additional funds would pay for supporting suicide prevention programs, integrating behavioral health with physical health in primary care practices, developing peer-led mental health and substance use services, and developing grants for technology and training for telehealth providers.

Other bills eyeing mental health also are in the pipeline, including legislation to support children’s mental health in schools, ongoing funding for the suicide prevention hotline 988, plus funding for counties’ services.

A top priority for counties is securing more state aid for the safety-net mental health services that they administer. They say there aren’t enough beds or counselors for people who need help after demand spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A spokesman for the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania said it supports the legislation, even though the money is not helping fund the county-run services. For those services, counties are seeking an additional $150 million — an almost 60% increase — while Shapiro’s budget proposal included just $20 million more.

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