In light of the 2020 budget’s impending due date, Oct. 1, the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners rejected a proposal for increased funding for the Community Mental Health program in Washtenaw County. The potential budget cut came last Wednesday, when the commission began reevaluating funding for several county programs.

The program has continually received support from the county and provides mental health resources to adults and children with emotional disturbances and developmental disabilities.  This year, the program requested additional funding to close the $10.3 million gap needed to continue providing services, county officials explained.

Washtenaw County commissioner Katie Scott, a Ways and Means Committee chair, said this shortfall is, in part, due to policies the state and federal governments have failed to implement for mental health treatment. 

“One of the main problems that we’re seeing here is that, really, the state is not funding mental health in the way that it needs to be funded,” Scott said. “So, we know that we’re providing great services for people in this county, but the state is not fully funding mental health programs across the entire state.”

The state of Michigan has yet to approve a budget, which means county officials remain unclear about what cuts need to be made. Scott says one of the reasons for the county’s rejection of Community Mental Health’s proposal was that it failed to include recommendations made by the county that would allow for a potentially smaller budget.

“There’s a big budget crisis looming at the state level too,” Scott said. “The state doesn’t have a budget, hence we don’t have a budget, so we’re going on a lot of numbers and assuming different things. Community Mental Health assumed a 4 percent rate of growth in the amount that they’re getting for the budget.”

LSA junior Elizabeth Einig, a member of both the Active Minds club and Mentality Magazine at the University of Michigan, said budget cuts in any form to an organization like Community Mental Health may have drastic effects on the treatment and support patients are able to get from the county.

“There’s already a tremendous amount of social stigma and financial barriers for mental health, and I feel like that proposal is definitely going to make things worse, as far as the situation of not being able to access treatment,” Einig said. 

Budget concerns often lead to cuts to mental health resources, but the county would be unlikely to take away funding from an organization providing support to those with physical illnesses, Einig said. 

“Mental illnesses are definitely more invisible, and so it’s harder for people to emphasize and want to allow more funding for it,” Einig said. “I think physical illnesses are much more understood. We’re more comfortable with it.”

Cuts to the Community Mental Health budget could potentially affect students in Washtenaw County as well. LSA senior Sarah Avery works with U-M students who seek out resources for mental health at Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center and as a Residential Advisor in a freshman dorm. Avery explained it can be difficult for students to find help.

“One of the main reasons students don’t ask for help is because they either don’t know where to go for help, or they can’t afford it,” Avery said. “Having affordable options that are clear and out there for people to use in Washtenaw County will make people, hopefully, more drawn to use those programs to get the help they need.”

Despite concerns over potentially reduced mental health funding, Scott said the county has been looking only at administrative cuts and potential ways to consolidate services, so as to manage the money Community Mental Health takes out of the county general fund without affecting the people the organization serves.

“It’s hard work, and I want them to be compensated fairly — to have retirement and medical benefits and paid time off — all the things that we know are so important for everybody working, but especially working when you’re doing hard physical and mental work every day,” she said.

Scott, who also works as an intensive care unit nurse at Michigan Medicine, said she understands the challenges Community Mental Health faces in maintaining its services.

“In my day job, I’m a nurse,” she said. “I know how important it is to make sure people are taken care of, and I just want to make sure we have these services continue to be provided for Washtenaw County.”

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