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Council members demand transparency into Adams' mental health budget

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City Councilmembers pressed top health officials about Mayor Eric Adams’ executive budget Monday, demanding transparency into how much the city spends on treatment for people with severe mental illnesses as it prepares to negotiate next year’s budget.

Councilmember Linda Lee, chair of the committee on mental health, disabilities and addiction, urged City Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan to disclose spending on treatment programs that target people with severe mental illnesses or involvement in the criminal justice system – a population that the city has historically struggled to treat. 

Lee, who represents Eastern Queens neighborhoods including Fresh Meadows, Jamaica and Bayside, said in an executive budget hearing on Monday that the programs are “crucial” to serving the city’s most vulnerable populations, challenging officials to coordinate care to ensure individuals don’t fall through the cracks.

“What we don’t want is for people to end up in shelters or the criminal justice system, when they should actually be receiving treatment,” Lee said.

Calls for transparency around the city’s mental health budget come as lawmakers continue to pressure the mayor to increase funding for mental health initiatives. The Health Department allocates about a third of its $2 billion budget, or $757 million, to mental health, according to an analysis conducted by the Council. The state funds half of mental health initiatives.

After the mayor released his preliminary budget in January, lawmakers requested at least $45 million in additional funds for mental health programs – specifically those that serve people with severe mental illness and those involved in the criminal justice system.

One piece of that request was a $7.2 million bump in baseline funding for Assertive Community Treatment teams, a Medicaid-funded mobile outreach program that provides mental health and substance use treatment, including medications. The Council asked for funding specifically for forensic teams, which serve New Yorkers involved in the criminal justice system.

The teams received $16 million in the current fiscal year budget, said Aaron Anderson, the Health Department’s chief financial officer. Forensic teams get $3.7 million of that money – an allocation the Council says is not sufficient.

The city’s five active forensic Assertive Community Treatment teams can serve up to 340 New Yorkers at a time, Vasan said.

The funding is significantly lower than for Intensive Mobile Treatment, a program for people experiencing severe mental illness and homelessness who have historically struggled to get treatment through the conventional health care system. Anderson said that the program receives roughly $42 million a year, but it is not funded by Medicaid and therefore cannot make additional revenue.

In addition to requests for mental health treatment funding, the Council has pushed the mayor to include $8.9 million in additional funding for mental health courts, $19.6 million for supportive housing programs and $5 million for trauma recovery centers in Queens and Staten Island, which are designed to provide mental health and support services to victims of violence.

The Council and the mayor plan to finalize the upcoming fiscal year budget by July 1.

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Amanda D'Ambrosio , 2024-05-13 22:37:44

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