State audit reveals that counties are hoarding money meant for mental health programs
According to a state audit released earlier this year, counties throughout the state are holding onto millions of dollars intended for mental health services. In 2004, the Mental Health Services Act was passed and it placed a one percent income tax on state residents who earned $1 million or more annually. However, the audit released by state Auditor Elaine Howle found that mental health agencies around California had accumulated $231 million in unspent money from the Mental Health Services Act by the end of fiscal year 2015-16. Around $1.5 billion was generated by the act that fiscal year, and the state had even allocated $1.4 billion to 59 county and local mental health agencies. Assemblyman Todd Gloria, who is working on a bill that would shorten to two years the time counties have to use the money, stated,
We have a mental health crisis in this state. And because of the stigma, it’s not discussed as much as it should be. Whether it’s a mass shooting event, the explosion of homeless (population) on the street and everything in between, the need to spend these dollars is unquestionable.
According to the Mental Health Services Act, counties are required to spend money from the act or return it to the state within three years of receiving it. Unfortunately, the audit found that the state Department of Health Care Services had not developed a process to recover the unspent funds, even though it has had the responsibility since 2012. The requirement to pay back the money was also pushed back further last year when the state Legislature enacted a one-time change that allowed local agencies to keep funds until 2020 because the funds would have been due last July. The only county that the audit is forgiving of is San Diego County, which was found to allocate funds appropriately and monitor projects effectively, even though it was also sitting on about $185 million at the time of the study. Hopefully, the counties are able to put the funds from the Mental Health Services Act to good use and help those that need help.