| House Passes Labor-HHS Appropriations Bill - With Funding For Mental Illness Research And Services, Presidential Veto Expected |
The White House and Congress are now involved in very public disputes about the absence of funding for presidential initiatives on education, law enforcement and the environment and a partisan struggle over which side is proposing to dip into the Social Security surplus to fund current spending. While the remainder of this year's budget fight will be set against this partisan backdrop, it is likely that most of the funding levels in this bill will stay in place in any final agreement.
The bill the House passed yesterday contains funding for all federal health and human service programs, including NAMI's priority programs such as the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS). It is unclear at this point which federal agencies and programs will see the .975% reduction in their budgets restored after the President vetoes the bill. Restoration of these funds is more likely in the case of CMHS programs, where Congress failed to accept recommended increases proposed by the Clinton Administration. By contrast, it may be more difficult for the .975% cut to be restored at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) since Congress increased funding far above the President's request.
The House-passed bill includes $978.360 million for the NIMH, the federal government's lead agency for mental illness research. This is a 13% increase over the FY 1999 funding level ($855.210 million). The .975% cut ($9.49 million) imposed by HR 3064 would reduce the NIMH budget to $968.87 million. This is roughly the same level for NIMH as in the Senate passed bill $969.494 million, and more than $38 million more than the original House level of $930.436 million. The President's request for NIMH for FY 1999 was $875.993 million.
The bill passed by the House yesterday excludes the $70 million increase for the Mental Health Block Grant (MHBG) that was included in the President's FY 2000 budget (up from its FY 1999 $288.8 million level to $358.8 million). The MHBG is a formula grant program to the state mental health agencies designed to fund community-based services for adults and children with mental illnesses. The House-passed Labor-HHS bill (HR 3064) funds the MHBG at $300 million - the same amount as an earlier House draft. The .975% across-the-board cut reduces this figure to $297.1 million. The Senate bill (S 1650) had proposed to fund $21 million of the President's request in FY 2000, with the remaining $49 million "forward-funded" into FY 2001 (i.e., not available until October 1, 2000). This additional $49 million was added to the Senate bill by Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN).
Since the proposed $70 million increase for the MHBG was a part of the President's FY 2000 budget plan, responsibility now falls on the Clinton Administration to push Congress to restore these funds in the final budget negotiations that are expected to begin next week. Unfortunately, the MHBG increase may be competing with a separate $80 million congressional mental health initiative at the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS) for "school violence prevention." NAMI is concerned that funding the "school violence prevention" program, and not the President's MHBG increase, would exclude services for adults with severe mental illnesses from what is likely to be packaged as a new federal "mental health initiative" by the President and Congress.
The House-passed Labor-HHS bill also includes modest increases for other CMHS Programs. The PATH program (services for homeless mentally ill adults) is funded at $31 million (up $5 million from its current $26 million level). The Childrens Mental Health program is funded at $83 million (up $5 million from the FY 1999 level). The PAIMI (protection and advocacy) program is funded at $25 million, up $2 million (with the increase specifically linked to investigating deaths and injuries related to inappropriate use of restraints and seclusion in psychiatric hospitals). Each of these programs is subject to a .975% cut - a cut that will be vetoed by the President next week. HR 3064 increases the CMHS Knowledge Development and Application (KDA) budget by $41 million up to $137.932 million. All of this increase is directed to the $80 million "school violence prevention" initiative that would be administered by CMHS and the U.S. Department of Education.
NAMI advocates are encouraged to contact the White House to urge that the President push hard for the $70 million increase for the MHBG put forward in his FY 2000 budget plan. NAMI advocates should urge the President to insist that Congress restore funding for Senator Wellstone's amendment and direct states to use these new resources for priority populations (adults and children with severe mental illness who lack access to treatment) and priority services (replication of PACT programs). The White House comment line can be reached by calling 202-456-1414. The President can be reached by e-mail at http://www.whitehouse.gov/WH/Mail/html/Mail_President.html
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