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We have news about the Healthy Transitions Initiative funding… and you’re not gonna like it…

October 04, 2013

As faithful readers know, we have been sending correspondence to Senator Harkin of the Senate Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies enquiring about the disappearance of the Healthy Transitions Initiative funding in the Senate Appropriations Bill. I want to extend a personal note of thanks to Subcommittee staffer Lisa Bernhardt for a candid and very helpful phone call yesterday that shed important light on what happened with the Healthy Transitions Initiative funding. If you have not yet read our analysis of the mystery of the missing HTI funding you should read it first as it will give you important context for this Morning Zen post.

Here are two of the six questions we posed in our letter to Senator Harkin with a summary of Ms. Bernhardt’s response and my reaction:

  • How was the decision made to remove HTI funding? What was the rationale to support this decision? Who was involved in making this decision?
    • According to Ms. Bernhardt the section in the documentation submitted by SAMHSA pertaining to the Healthy Transitions Initiative was the “least articulated” request and was “vague and amorphous.” Even though there was ongoing dialogue between SAMHSA and Senate Appropriations staff during the budget process when the time came to make decisions the rationale for funding the Healthy Transitions Initiative was not as clearly outlined as were other funding requests, so ended up being excluded from the final proposal to the full Appropriations Committee.
    • More troubling, until the subcommittee received the letter from the Children’s Mental Health Network sent on August 16th, not one advocate in Washington, DC had spoken up on behalf of the Healthy Transitions Initiative. Let me make this even clearer – While the committee heard from several groups on different funding requests no one spoke or wrote on behalf of the Healthy Transitions Initiative. Folks, it is kind of hard to be rough on the Senate subcommittee if no one is speaking out on behalf of the Healthy Transitions Initiative.
  • How was the decision made to add funding to the Community Mental Health Services Block Grant? What was the rationale to support this decision? Who was involved in making this decision?
    • According to Ms. Bernhardt the decision to add funds to the Community Mental Health Services Block Grant was made before consideration was given to the Healthy Transitions Initiative. Regardless of when the decision was made, the fundamentals remain the same – the description of funding for the Healthy Transitions Initiative was not clearly articulated and no one was speaking on its behalf. Again, this one is on us folks.

I did not pursue the remaining questions we had posed in our letter to Senator Harkin, as it was clear that, even though we may disagree with the decision to propose funding for the identified treatment approaches through the block grant, other groups had effectively provided a rationale that the Senate subcommittee agreed with. However, all is not lost. This battle has just begun. There are three important takeaways from the conversation with Ms. Bernhardt yesterday that will help guide our efforts from this point on:

  • We need to pay more attention to documentation prepared by SAMHSA
    The Network will be contacting SAMHSA to see how in the future we can gain access to documentation that goes to Congress beforehand so that we may offer recommendations and support for key items pertaining to children’s mental health.
  • We need to make a case for the Healthy Transitions Initiative in person on Capitol Hill
    If there ever was an example of being asleep at the switch this was it. However, we are actually early in the game so no sense cryin’ over spilt milk. Ms. Bernhardt was gracious enough to agree to meet with me in late October to become better acquainted with our perspective on the importance of promoting funding activities that positively address the needs of emerging adults in a comprehensive and expansive way. The home office of the Children’s Mental Health Network is based in Durham, North Carolina so I will be loading the pickup truck with supporting materials and hitting the road for the 520 mile round trip to DC to meet with both Senate and House Appropriations staff. This is what needs to happen and I sure could use some help. In addition to gas money (yes, it’s an obvious plug for donations, but remember, we actively choose not to take any federal funding so that our voice may remain free and clear), we need your stories, letters of support and research evidence to better educate the Senate and House on the importance of promoting services that support youth in transition (ages 14 – 25). We’ve got the rhetoric of being “youth guided” down pat. Let’s work together to make this more than just rhetoric. You can send your letters of support for the Healthy Transitions Initiative to scott@cmhnetwork.org or via mail at:
    Children’s Mental Health Network
    2201 Wilshire Drive
    Durham, NC 27707
  • We need to “not give up.”
    It would be easy to write this off as “too little too late.” Not gonna happen Network faithful. I hope you are as disgusted as I am about the chronology of events leading up to the removal of the Healthy Transitions Initiative line item in the budget. Ringing our hands and lamenting is for losers. Let’s do something about it.

Scott Bryant-Comstock
President & CEO
Children’s Mental Health Network

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