The toll of a budget impasse
What’s the problem?
It’s been on the news, in the papers, and maybe mentioned in a passing conversation but does Illinois’ budget impasse really have an affect on you? In short, absolutely. With this deadlock eating away at mental health services, these problems don’t just disappear; these problems seep into other infrastructures and consume valuable resources.
So let’s break it down into more palatable parts.
- For half of 2015 Illinois has been without a budget due to differences from Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and legislative Democrats.
- The state’s unfunded pension liability has grown to $111 billion
- Pension liability-the difference between the total amount due to retirees and the actual amount of money the company has on hand to make those payments.
- The state debt increases on average $500,000 per hour
- The lack of budget affects education, healthcare, prisons, mental health, state employees, state parks, domestic violence victims, childcare, seniors, housing, social services, museums, and many more areas
How does this affect mental health and seniors services?
In ranking states with the highest mental health budget cuts, Illinois came in third at $113.7 million behind New York and California (2009-2012). It has been proven that “with effective services and support, people living with major mental illness can and do achieve recovery,” says a report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). However, when services are cut and individuals with mental illness are left untreated, people end up in emergency rooms, extended stays in hospitals, homeless, in jail or dead. With a population of 12.88 million people living in Illinois, it’s estimated by NAMI Chicago that 7.5 million adults are living with a varying degree of mental illness, 58% of Illinois’ population. With a halt to funding, psychologists and psychiatrists are less willing to see patients, which means these people aren’t getting the care they need. For those with severe mental illness, their new treatment facility is prison.
Criminal Justice System
With mental health facilities at their capacity with clients, the job of responding to mental illness related crises falls on local police officers. However, special training is required for officers who respond to mental illness calls, which requires funding. For example, the Orland Park Police Department assembled a crisis intervention team (CIT) that serves as an automatic response system for calls related to mental illness, “it provides resources for families, keeps police officers safer and decreases the number of emergency calls for service.” (The Regional News) The cost of training a class of 25 comes to about $20,000. With the state budget on hold, those training have come to a halt. It’s clear that because mental health facilities aren’t getting funding and police officers aren’t getting trained in treating the mentally ill that thousands of individuals are being cycled into the criminal justice system without proper care.
One of the most multi-faceted pieces affected by the budget crisis, funding for education is proving unreliable. Not only are students not receiving scholarship and grant money, but some institutions are worried that they might not even be able to pay employees come spring. The most affected are students coming from low-income families due to their heavy reliance on scholarships and grants. Colleges such as Chicago State University and Northwestern University who rely heavily on government funding are in danger of shutting down. The mental toll of students losing the opportunity of higher education, professors and staff losing their jobs and the lack of education on issues about mental illness is devastating. In addition, fewer people given access to higher education means less psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists and other health care providers. This is just half the burden.
Due to a lack of funds going around, the Illinois State Board of Education is proposing to take $305 million from special education to pay for general education expenses that have nothing to do with children with disabilities. While all children deserve a proper education, there just isn’t enough money to go around and that burden is falling on children with special needs.
With schools shuffling money around trying to stay afloat, mental health education gets lost. This means less people including students, teachers, and professors being educated on mental illness, sensitivity and a proper way to address and treat it. A lack of education leads to parents not addressing their children’s illness, teenagers ashamed of something they can’t control and adults who aren’t given the resources to properly heal; all of which have catastrophic results.
How does this affect you?
1 in 5 Americans suffer from mental illness. To read more statistics go here. So think of 5 family members or friends and imagine if one of them were dealing with depression or anxiety or substance abuse or schizophrenia. Imagine if they couldn’t get the help they needed because they weren’t accepted into a certain program or their Medicaid wouldn’t cover a psychiatrist for them and you didn’t know how to take care of them. This is the reality for millions of people due to the state putting a hold on a budget. Whether you’re aware of it or not, someone near you is struggling with mental illness in some degree or another.
How can you help?
Educate, educate, educate
One of the most important things you can do is educate yourself on the state of Illinois’ budget crisis, mental illnesses and treatments available near you. The more you know the more you can help yourself and others.
Write to your legislators
Go here and stress the importance of ending the budget impasse.
Share any information and/or news you find with colleagues, coworkers, family and friends via social media, email and word of mouth.
Mental health service centers, like Kenneth Young Center, depend on supporters like you to continue providing invaluable services to those in need. Any donation whether it’s money, clothing, services or time only helps centers like us maintain care.
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