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County supports a statewide increase to $150 million for mental health funding

Butler Eagle File Photo

The county commissioners on Wednesday, May 24, approved a resolution asking the state to increase mental health program funding for counties and school districts across the state by a combined $150 million.

The resolution seeks to add $30 million to the $20 million that Gov. Josh Shapiro included in his proposed budget as an increase in base funding for county mental health services.

That $50 million would be combined with $100 million for school district mental health programs in base mental health funding for the counties.

The state hasn’t increased that base funding since 2012, said Brandon Savochka, director of the county human services department.

“We have a very good mental health system,” Savochka said. “We have any service you want.”

Of the $5.2 million a year the state allocates to the county for mental health services, 10% goes to crisis intervention programs, he said. The allocation also is used to fund residential services, student assistance, information referral, community treatment, the county’s four mental health service providers and other programs, but those costs are increasing.

“$5.2 million — a big number that does not go that far,” Savochka said.

The base funding is used to pay for programs and train staff.

“Base funding is the heart of everything we do. We have one of the best trainings in the state,” Savochka said.

County residents who don’t qualify for Medical Assistance are served by the programs, said Leslie Osche, commissioners chairwoman.

Commissioner Kevin Boozel said it is the state’s responsibility — not the county’s — to provide mental health services.

Collaboration between counties and school districts in providing mental health services with the funding going to the counties is preferable to separating the allocations because there are 500 school districts in the state and each could use the money to develop a distinct program, Savochka said.

The Butler Area School District does not receive state funding to provide mental health services for students, but the county pays the Center for Community Resources to provide those services, said superintendent Brian White, who was contacted after the commissioners’ meeting.

“The needs are beyond the capacity in our schools,” White said.

He said the primary concerns of staff are students’ mental health, behavior and unmet needs. Any funding to address those issues would be welcome, he said.

“The sooner we can get those things addressed the better off we’re all going to be,” White said.

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