Although hyperbole is nothing new in politics, it doesn’t show up as often when it comes down to the nitty gritty of agency and departmental budget presentations. However, phrases such as “once-in-a-generation” and “vision for a new normal” were used by Dr. Mark Ghaly in his statements made with the release of the California Health and Human Services budget proposal on Friday, May 14th.
Granted, the Governor’s May Revise is a budget proposal, and will no doubt be modified through negotiations with the Legislature, whose members have a number of projects they’d also like to see funded in the 2021-22 fiscal year and beyond, but many initiatives laid out in the Revise should remain largely intact given the dramatic positive shift in California’s fiscal picture. Moreover, it would seem that immediate threats to California’s existing behavioral health system, with some counties recently having informed provider agencies that there would need to be programmatic cuts in response to projected revenue shortfalls, should be rendered moot.
The combination of multiple federal aid packages, a quicker than expected improvement in COVID rates, lower than expected COVID-related expenditures, better than forecasted sales tax revenue, and growth in income experienced by California’s wealthiest residents, has turned what was projected to be a staggering state budget shortfall into a gigantic budget surplus. This has resulted in the Governor not only rescinding the programmatic cuts that were part of the current fiscal year’s budget but adding numerous large-scale projects to the 2021-22 budget, several of which will have direct impacts on California’s behavioral health and related systems.
This of course is welcome and wonderful news for CASRA agencies, their staff and most importantly for the people we serve. Funds dedicated to improving the behavioral health infrastructure continue to remain at the top of the Governor’s priority list and have been increased in the May Revise. A remaking of the children’s system care, including a long-overdue focus on substance use treatment services for those under 25 is front and center in the budget proposal, as are nearly $5 billion in expenditures to address homelessness and housing issues in California. It appears that the CalAIM initiative will have the funding it needs to move forward, and there are a number of workforce initiatives contained in the May Revise. This coupled with the acknowledgement of the need to add to the behavioral health workforce offers new hope that one of our most stubborn issues might finally receive due attention.
Not surprisingly, there isn’t much in the way of detail with respect to most of these proposals at this stage. As mentioned previously, these are all proposals that will have to make their way through the legislative process, and will no doubt look somewhat different by the time the Governor signs the budget. This, as many of you know, is the easy part. The challenge facing all of us in the months and years to come will be providing the insights to help several State Departments, some of which we may not have worked with much in the past, to develop the regulations, rules, policies and the funding proposals needed to turn the vision into reality. We will continue to keep you up to date on developments around the budget and the myriad of proposals it contains. As always, we are happy to have your questions and will do the best we can to track down answers.
This will be a group effort. All of us at CASRA are excited to journey down this road with you and look forward to fully taking advantage of the amazing expertise held by our member agencies, and to build upon on our existing working relationships with agency and departmental staff at the State level, our partnerships with other stakeholder organizations, and the numerous like-minded travelers who provide support and show us the way.