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National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery | NCMHR

Policy Matters! 

November 2012

By Raymond Bridge, Director of Public Policy

Election results

The election on November 6 was historic in many ways, and I hope each of you were able to cast your vote.  This election had a profound impact on people in recovery because it protected federal agencies and programs important to our community.  With the re-election of Barack Obama, we can expect continuity in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Center for Mental Health Services, where two exceptional consumers, Paolo del Vecchio and Wilma Townsend, are in currently in charge.

The Democrats increased their majority in the Senate, which means that they, and the President’s veto powers, will thwart the intentions of the Republican-led House of Representatives to pursue the draconian “Ryan” budget, turn Medicaid from a federal entitlement into a block grant to states, and change Medicare into a voucher program.

The election also effectively ended efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (health care reform).  Health care reform is here to stay. How health reform is implemented—both by the federal government and by your state--will shape your future health care choices and your mental health system.

Fiscal Cliff puts mental health funding in play

Our Coalition has been working with Congress to protect funding for statewide consumer network grants, funding for the five national technical assistance centers and the Mental Health Block Grant.  We had great success with the Senate Appropriations Committee, which held funding steady for SAMHSA in fiscal year 2013, and fully funded statewide consumer network grants (which the Obama Administration wanted to cut sharply) and technical assistance centers. Block Grant funding was increased.  The House, however, proposed cutting SAMHSA and Block Grant funding by 17 percent.

The difference between Senate and House was never worked out because Congress never agreed to funding for most federal agencies.  Even though fiscal year 2013 actually started October 1, Congress passed a “continuing resolution” postponing funding decisions until late March 2013.

The good news is that Senate Democrats and the President remain in control. The not so good news is that three events (popularly dubbed the Fiscal Cliff) are looming.  Bush-era tax cuts expire in January 2013, and a budget agreement reached in 2010 requires big cuts in federal spending for the next 10 years, starting in fiscal year 2013. Plus, the debt ceiling must be raised in January to keep government doors open.

Thanks to the election, both the President and Republican leaders in the House seem willing to bend now on their sharp differences and find a solution.  If they can’t agree, all federal agencies will be cut by 8-10 percent immediately, thanks to that 2010 budget deal. But even if they do agree, federal agencies like SAMHSA are likely to take a hit. And ultimately, reducing the budget deficit comes down to reigning in Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlement programs important to us all.