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WHAT THEY ARE SAYING: Kids Groups, Counties & More Respond Positively to Progress on Governor Newsom’s Proposed Mental Health Reform

SACRAMENTO – Childrens and youth groups, families, counties, labor, and mental health and substance use professionals responded positively to the progress made on Governor Newsom’s proposed major transformation and modernization of the state’s mental health services system. The behavioral health legislative package will go to the voters for approval in March 2024, after consideration and approval by Legislature and Governor Newsom’s signature in 2023.

Yesterday, the Senate Health Committee held an informational hearing on the proposed Mental Health Services Act reform, proposed by Governor Newsom and introduced by Senator Eggman as SB 326, including the newly amended language that comes after weeks of stakeholder meetings and input to strengthen this historic reform and help as many Californians get the services and care they need.

“The behavioral health crisis playing out on our streets and in hospitals, jails, and homes across the state demands immediate action,” Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton), Chair of the Senate Health Committee and author of Senate Bill 326. “SB 326 will reshape our priorities for billions of mental health dollars each year, ensuring a substantial investment in helping house those with serious behavioral health issues who are homeless or at risk for homelessness, and providing true accountability and transparency for spending. I applaud the Governor for his strong leadership on this incredibly challenging issue and I am all in to help put it over the finish line.”

Here is what they said during the hearing…

CHILDREN, YOUTH & FAMILY GROUPS

  • The Children’s Partnership President Mayra Alvarez: “Given the historic opportunity this effort represents to ensure our entire continuum of care is responsive to the needs of historically marginalized children, youth, and families, we thank the Governor and legislature for incorporating amendments to the bill that preserve essential set-asides for children and youth services and continue to advance the state’s ongoing efforts to build a comprehensive, whole-child ecosystem for child and youth mental health.”

  • California Alliance of Child and Family Services: CA Alliance “is thrilled to see the inclusion of specific set asides for children and youth in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Mental Health Services Act reform.”

  • Larkin Street Youth Group CEO Sherilyn Adams: “Larkin Street Youth Services is grateful for the responsiveness to community input reflected in the latest changes to the MHSA reform proposal. The renewed focus on youth under age 25 in prevention and early intervention services, as well as the inclusion of a youth seat on the Commission, is critical. Too often, our most vulnerable youth are invisible to the systems they depend on, and mental health and substance use needs among youth are only growing…”

  • Children Now Senior Director Lishaun Francis: “We really, really want to thank the administration for being so willing to work with us on these amendments, we were really excited to see a number of things primarily the set aside for kids in the prevention and early intervention bucket, the align definition of behavioral health treatment need with CalAIM, as well as the expansion of the homeless definition beyond chronic homelessness.”

  • National Health Law Program Managing Director Kim Lewis: “The administration’s behavioral health modernization proposal is intended to strengthen California’s mental health and substance use disorder system and promote access to high quality and appropriate behavioral health services while also ensuring federal and state dollars are maximized…and are pleased to see the recent changes to emphasize the focus on the needs of youth aged 25 and younger.” 

COUNTY OFFICIALS

  • Behavioral Health Director of Nevada County Phebe Bell: “Counties are appreciative of the author and the administration’s acknowledgement of the many outstanding issues and challenges we face as a public safety net for mental health and substance use disorders in bringing forward SB 326, including an MHSA funding structure that limits our ability to pay for stand alone SUD or substance use conditions,  lack of access to housing for our clients, and the opportunity for more transparency about our services and our expenditures…I want to especially thank the author and the administration for many of the improvements, including recognizing the needs of smaller counties such as my own and our unique circumstances.”

  • Superintendent of Schools of Santa Clara County Dr. Mary Ann Dewan: “We are deeply grateful to the legislature and to the administration for the recent historic investments and policy changes that really did increase support for youth behavioral health and is beginning to move California towards an integrated systems approach. These efforts are positive steps towards alignment and coordination between schools and health providers…we appreciate that the administration has restored the provision requiring 51% of the early intervention funds be spent on children and youth…”

LABOR & WORKFORCE GROUPS

  • SEIU California State Council Government Relations Advocate Matt Lege: “SEIU supports this because we believe it is a holistic, compassionate approach to care with a focus on equity.”

  • California Council of Community Behavioral Health Agencies CEO Dr. Le Ondra Clark Harvey: “Behavioral health has not seen this much attention by our leaders in 20 years. Thank you for the attention and thank you to the administration and the legislative leaders for your commitment here… we are hopeful for a phased in approach with clear accountability…the newly added flexibility for counties to determine how to use funds for substance use disorders is quite welcomed.”

MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES OVERSIGHT & ACCOUNTABILITY COMMISSION

  • Executive Director of the Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission Toby Ewing: “This is a landmark body of policy that was really designed to support transformational change…[we don’t] agree on everything. I use the reference of siblings who often share a bathroom. We get along in many many ways but at times there is conflict. So we appreciate the comments about our ability to be independent…We really appreciate the focus and the restatement to this commitment on accountability. The state and the counties have not yet fulfilled that commitment to the public. We have worked hard on that, but we clearly are not there. And so we look forward to working with the administration to develop an implementation plan to get there.”

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