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County officials say if Proposition 1 passes, it could mean less funding, fewer programs for SLO County Behavioral Health 

California voters will vote on Proposition 1 in March, and if it passes, SLO County's Behavioral Health Department could see less funding.

click to enlarge VOTE MATTERS During the 2024 Primary Elections, voters in SLO County and across the state will weigh in on Proposition 1, which aims to modernize the Mental Health Services Act. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • VOTE MATTERS During the 2024 Primary Elections, voters in SLO County and across the state will weigh in on Proposition 1, which aims to modernize the Mental Health Services Act.

The measure is a $6.4 billion bond proposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom that aims to modernize the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) and provide California with the resources to build 10,000 new beds to help those with serious mental illnesses and substance use disorders get the housing and services they need, according to the governor's office.

"We are facing a confluence of crises: Mental health, opioids, housing, and homelessness—and this transformation effort will ensure California is tackling these head-on in a comprehensive and inclusive way," Newsom said in a statement. "Over the last few years, California has led the nation in expanding access to affordable and quality mental health services—especially for children, teens, and people with untreated mental illness. The historic legislative effort ... will supercharge these efforts to ensure California continues to lead the way in the decades to come."

Proposition 1 calls for shifting $140 million of existing tax revenue annually to add more behavioral health services. However, SLO County Behavioral Health Deputy Director Frank Warren told New Times that the shift would actually reduce funding and some of the programs the department already offers.

Proposition 1 is split into three parts, he said. The first is a bond that aims to generate funds for immediate short-term residential housing throughout the state, while the other two parts focus on behavioral health reform.

"The third part is a reform of the Mental Health Services Act, and this is where it gets layered for us," he said. "Right now, our Mental Health Services Act has a formula based on your MediCal population, your poverty rates, and that's how fund amounts are calculated for counties."

The MHSA passed in 2004 and was designed to expand and transform California's behavioral health system to better serve individuals with and at risk of serious mental health issues and their families, provide early intervention, and provide for needed infrastructure, technology, and training. It's currently funded by a 1 percent income tax on personal income in excess of $1 million per year.

At the county level, the MHSA requires mental health services to be provided in community partnership and encourages programs to meet people where they are instead of a model that involves people walking into clinics, Warren said.

"It got counties to serve people in their communities, their schools, their family resource centers, and it focuses on people who are the most severe in inpatient units, crisis services, jails, and hospitals," he said. "It also created a continuum in the mental health world that involves prevention and early intervention, so that we can address issues with young people who have very early signs of risk."

Warren said the county has a robust early intervention program at 12 out of the 13 middle schools and multiple suicide prevention programs. The county's top prevention program focuses on co-occurring disorders for people who suffer from both substance use and mental health disorders.

If the proposition passes, it would reduce funding for the Mental Health Services Act, he said.

"The funding components will be reduced to a third or actually 30 percent of our Mental Health Services Act, which will now be dedicated to housing; 35 percent will be dedicated to the full service partnerships, and the other 35 percent will basically be for everything else," he said. "In a county like ours, we will have funding that is specific to paying for rental subsidies, but those funds are going to come out of the services we currently perform."

The Adult Full Service Partnership program provides around-the-clock intensive community-based wraparound services to help people in recovery live independently, according to the county website. Warren said the county also provides homeless outreach services, including treatment in the field and crisis programs. But the ballot measure would force the county to pick and choose certain programs to fund.

"The current Mental Health Services Act has a lot of requirements for youth prevention and specific types of programs, but those requirements would go away. Meaning that they would be competing for funding," he said. "What's going to happen is that these programs that our community has helped build and design are going to have to now be dismantled in a thoughtful way so that we are still providing the most important services."

Although the lack of funding is concerning, Warren said a lot of good could also come out of Propisition 1, such as mandatory reporting for all county services to ensure transparency with residents.

"Certainly, a focus on housing is something that we all believe in, especially for people who are suffering from mental illness or addiction," he said. "Housing is the best way to get them treated and keep them sustaining their treatment, so we're excited about that. We'll just be forced to make some really tough decisions."

Warren said while waiting on the proposition's outcome, his team is collecting data on which programs are most at risk of losing funding.

"In the current Mental Health Services Act, there's a requirement to do innovation programs that test new models and strategies. They are short-term funded projects that help you determine what's the best way to serve a certain population," he said. "This new reform would take away that requirement."

The state would also take 3 percent of what the Behavioral Health Department currently receives and allocate it to state prevention programs, he said.

"We don't know how we will use or access that funding for our own prevention," he said. "Basically, it's telling the counties not to fund our prevention programs."

Warren encourages county residents to really read up on Proposition 1 and understand what the measure is and what outcome it will have on the state, whether it passes or not.

"Part of the reason why it's confusing is because it has things that are very adventurous, and it's trying to do a lot of really good things," he said. "But we'll be impacted in our county in ways that other counties might not be, so it's good to talk about just so people understand what it would look like for a county like ours."

Homeless Services Division Communications Program Manager Suzie Freeman agreed that it's important for voters to read up on Proposition 1 and told New Times that the county is prepared to work with whatever the primary's outcome is.

"If Prop. 1 passes in California, the division is prepared to work alongside its community partners to meet the requirements outlined in the legislation," she said. Δ

Correction: This story was updated to correct the number of dollars proposed as the bond component of Proposition 1. The proposition asks voters to approve a $6.4 billion bond.  

Reach Staff Writer Samantha Herrera at [email protected].

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