Budget chaos hurts mental services

September 08, 2009

Guilford County in Greensboro, North Carolina is dreading the inevitable approaching budget cuts, but their real problem is not being able to spend the money they are given. Last year, the Guilford Center for mental health and substance abuse was given $13.7 million in state service funds for child and adult mental health, developmental disability and substance abuse. They returned $3.2 million. Concerning the upcoming distribution of money, Billie Pierce, director of the Guilford Center, said “It’s going to be impossible for us to spend all that money. Impossible.”

One of the main reasons for this return is due to the state’s “Service Definitions, Billing Guidelines, and Documentation Requirements.” According to the rules, if a private provider spends state money incorrectly, that contractor has to pay back the money — perhaps a few hundred dollars, perhaps a few hundred thousand. This is important to discourage dishonest spending, but disallowed the Guilford Center to create a “drop-in center for the mentally ill” because, according to the rules, each client would have to be on file to attend, defeating the purpose of a “drop-in.”

Another reason for the disuse is the disorganization of the fund distribution. Frank Cleary, a founding board member of the non-profit Sanctuary House in Greensboro, said, “It’s very frustrating. You might be told you’re getting $10,000. Then you get $30,000. But you have to spend it by next week.”


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