County Bolsters Mental Health Services in New Budget

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Supervisor Dianne Jacob. Courtesy of her office

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously adopted a $6.27 billion budget for the coming fiscal year that includes added funding for mental health and addiction services, as well as other homelessness prevention practices.

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The financial plan represents more than an 8 percent increase from this year’s spending made possible by an extra $500 million in revenue from property taxes, grants, fees, pass-throughs and other traditional income sources.

The spending plan reserves nearly $120 million to implement a new drug- treatment program for Medi-Cal recipients. There will also be 12 new public- health nurse positions and $1.6 million to fight hepatitis A.

Additionally, the county will fund a pilot program in which mental health professionals, and not solely law enforcement, are dispatched to assist individuals having psychological episodes.

Investments in drug, alcohol and mental health services are foundational to tackling other issues, Supervisor Ron Roberts said.

“We know for a fact that our largest mental health facility is our jail. And that isn’t what we want a jail to be. We want mental health issues to be dealt with in a different way, and that’s what we’re working towards,” he said. “…If there are bigger problems facing us right now as an entire community I don’t know what they are. They’re at the heart of almost everything we’re dealing with.”

Overall, $2.1 billion of the budget, 33.6 percent, will go to Health and Human Services. Just over 30 percent, or $1.9 billion, will go to Public Safety.

Capital projects received the largest funding boost with $275 million total, nearly 80 percent more than the previous budget.

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The largest share of proposed spending in all categories will go toward salaries, which account for $2.23 billion of the total budget. That includes an increase of 179 full-time equivalent positions.

Other spending highlights include two new Live Well Centers in Oceanside and Southeast San Diego. Those centers, intended to bolster self- sufficiency, offer medical and social services under one roof.

Not everyone was pleased with the budget. A handful of public speakers passionately called for a new office dedicated to immigrant and refugee services.

The sentiment was echoed by David Garcias, president of the Service Employees International Union Local No. 221, which represents roughly 11,000 county workers. The action is especially vital given the climate surrounding immigration and the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy on illegal immigration, Garcias said.

“We want a budget that reflects our values — and our values are to embrace immigrant families. They are a part of our California,” he said. “…We all come from immigrant families. We all should embrace them.”

Though he praised Medi-Cal drug treatment spending and other homelessness-focused programs, Garcias requested salary increases for security and other staff contracted by the county, as did other union-affiliated speakers. Some security guards make as little as $11.50 an hour.

“How are we supposed to work in our own jobs when our colleagues — our security officers — aren’t able to pay their own rent? Some of them are nearly homeless,” Garcias said.

Immigrant and contracted employee advocates requested the county to dip into its nearly $700 million in unassigned reserves. That isn’t so easy, said Tracey Sandoval, the county’s deputy chief administrative officer/auditor and controller.

Sandoval said county policy dictates two months of operating expenses, nearly $600 million, are available in case of catastrophe. Remaining funds are being eyed for one-time supervisor priorities.

“Even though it’s the largest budget in the history of the county, it’s never enough for some,” Supervisor Dianne Jacob said. “But we can’t be all things for all people.”

City News Service

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