Senate OKs mental health package on gun bill – but do we really gain anything?
April 18, 2013
The Congressional Budget Office is out with a cost estimate analysis of S. 689 Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act of 2013. [Note that gross funding levels for fiscal year 2013 are provided, but those amounts do not reflect the 5.0 percent reductions from the recently ordered sequestration of 2013 funding.] The good news is that the Senate agreed today to include the bipartisan mental health measure onto gun control legislation — but what does it really mean? Let’s set aside for the moment whether the Bill ever fully comes to fruition and focus on the mental health amendment. The amendment offered by Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) was 95-2, with Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) opposing. So that’s great, right? Well, yes and no. Many mental health advocates are rejoicing that we are getting some attention (better some than nothing) but that leaves a bitter taste in our mouths. Props to Harkin and Alexander for pushing hard on this but when you read what’s in it you find that at best, it treads water by offering, for the most part, what already is being funded, and even increasing scope and responsibilities for some (i.e., suicide prevention, trauma) while keeping funding at the same level as last year.
“I hope that regardless of how we might agree or disagree with this gun bill, we would agree that we … need to do a better job of mental health support services for children in our country,” Harkin said.
To achieve broad Republican support, the senators had to keep the bill budget-neutral, which is why it doesn’t actually create new programs — it just gives Congress the go-ahead to renew existing ones.
Are we pleased here at the CMHNetwork? Well, no, we are not. While appreciative of the effort by the Senators who pushed for this amendment, voting yes on something that is not a game changer in any way imaginable, especially in light of the heightened conversation around mental health the past few months is more of an appeasement to public outcry and not something to even remotely celebrate. Although the issue has risen to national legislative action, we need a commitment for following years to do far more than a budget neutral effort. If we want to improve mental health resources for our children we have to pay for it, plain and simple. Let’s up the ante for the next five years and agree to fund the full need for children’s mental health, not apply a Band-Aid.