MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) — The battle over state funding for mental health care is raging after Governor Tony Evers laid out his budget proposal Tuesday night.
He wants to spend about $500 million on services statewide after declaring 2023 the Year of Mental Health.
Groups on the ground say they fight a mental health crisis every day that in some cases has life-or-death consequences. They say more money will help fund solutions, but first comes the political battle for position.
Abigail Swetz, communications director for the state department of public education, said, “We need the funding. We need the budget to continue.”
Swetz said many mental health trends have been concerning for some time. In 2022, the state’s Office of Children’s Mental Health found that 52% of high school students reported anxiety, 34% felt sad or hopeless every day, and 22% reported self-harm.
And the biannual Youth Risk Behavior Survey of Wisconsin children showed in terms of suicide trends: Nearly 1 in 5 high school students have seriously considered suicide. For certain subgroups the figures are even worse.
Swetz said many students don’t feel they can seek help. That’s partly why DPI is proposing more money for mental health resources. Swetz said: “It would get money into the hands of every district, regardless of size, starting with enough even for the smallest district in our state. Starting with enough for at least one mental health professional to be in that district .”
In the past, most of the money was made available through grants. But this proposal would make the money available whether districts asked for it or not. It would also scale up depending on the size of the neighborhood.
DPI is one of dozens of organizations that would distribute a significant portion of funding under Governor Evers’ budget proposal.
In Tuesday’s State of the State address, Evers said, “We will make a total investment of approximately $500 million to expand access to mental and behavioral health services for people in our state.”
But Assembly Chairman Robin Vos controls the wallet. He plans to ignore the dollar amounts suggested by Evers and start all over again. In response to Evers’ speech, Vos said on Tuesday, “As you know, all of Governor Evers’ ideas will probably be brushed aside, as we always do, and we’ll start over.”
Vos indicated that he supports many of the programs Evers wants to fund, and is willing to consider others, but only after a tax cut.
Abigail Swetz said DPI is happy to work with the legislature and sees hope on the horizon despite the worrying trends. “People are waking up to the fact that this is a problem. It’s been a problem for far too long and we’ve reached a crisis level.”
The recommended ratio of mental health professionals to patients is 250 to 1, but Wisconsin falls well short of 440 to 1. And in some counties, there are as many as 13,000 people for every mental health professional.