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Stimulus Debate Largely Overlooks Behavioral-Health Funding

The Substance Use and Mental Health Services Administration CARES Act funding awarded Maine less than $1 million toward behavioral health. (Medic454/Wikimedia Commons)
The Substance Use and Mental Health Services Administration CARES Act funding awarded Maine less than $1 million toward behavioral health. (Medic454/Wikimedia Commons)
August 11, 2020

AUGUSTA, Maine -- Federal stimulus funding is barely helping states such as Maine with their behavioral-health needs, also called mental-health and substance-use treatment. According to the National Council for Behavioral Health, the majority of targeted CARES Act funding went to fewer than 5% of behavioral-health organizations.

Malory Shaughnessy, executive director of the Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services in Maine, said most of the CARES Act money went to 160 or so "certified community behavioral health clinics," a federal program launched in 2015. Shaughnessy said these community clinics are seeing positive results.

"They're seeing reduced emergency-room visits, they're seeing reduced crisis services, they're seeing reduced high-end costs through having a more comprehensive, preventive and treatment-oriented system," Shaughnessy said.

Basically, these federally certified clinics offer affordable, 24/7, comprehensive mental-health and substance-use services, all in one place. But 17 states don't have certified community behavioral health clinics yet -- including Maine.

Both the House and Senate stimulus plans call for several billion dollars for behavioral health -- more than the CARES Act.

Shaughnessy said the mental-health providers' association urged Maine to apply for a planning grant back in 2014, but the governor's administration did not do so. She thinks one big benefit of these certified clinics is their payment structure: The federal government pays them before they incur costs, rather than afterwards.

"What we've seen around the country, because the setup is different, of the way the funding goes, these centers have been able to get past the workforce crisis that has been plaguing many community behavioral health centers across the country," she said.

Unfortunately, Gov. Janet Mills' administration wasn't able to help several organizations apply for a similar planning grant in early March, just as COVID was starting to spread in the U.S. The Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services is asking Mills to create a COVID-19 Provider Relief Fund from state CARES Act money so that services can continue through this crisis.

Disclosure: Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services contributes to our fund for reporting on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, Mental Health. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem, Public News Service - ME