JEFFERSON CITY — Hundreds of Missouri residents could be denied mental health services under spending cuts approved Wednesday by a Senate committee trying to close a projected shortfall in next year's budget.
The Senate Appropriations Committee endorsed a 10 percent reduction in state aid for alcohol and drug abuse treatment, psychiatric care and crisis services for people with developmental disabilities.
State Budget Director Linda Luebbering said the cuts are supported by Gov. Jay Nixon, whose staff has been working with senators to close a $500 million gap in the nearly $23.9 billion budget he proposed. Lawmakers have until May 7 to pass a budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
The budget passed previously by the House was $200 million less than the plan Nixon outlined in January. Senators are looking to make deeper cuts because of uncertainty over whether Missouri will receive an additional $300 million of federal stimulus money. Nixon originally proposed to spend the $300 million next year, but he now prefers to save it until 2012, when the state's budget problems are expected to be worse.
The Senate committee already has approved cuts in aid to public colleges and universities, busing for K-12 school districts and the Parents as Teachers early childhood development program, among other things. But the cuts Wednesday to mental health services were among the hardest to make, said Sen. Tim Green, D-St. Louis.
"We're really cutting people's lives here," Green said.
The cuts are not final, because the Senate budget plan still must be reconciled with the one passed by the House.
The Department of Mental Health said the cuts will affect people whose treatment is not covered by private health insurance or Medicaid. It estimates that:
- 1,053 people would be denied treatment for substance abuse problems. When turned away, some of those people may end up in hospital emergency rooms or jails, mental health officials said.
- 594 adults would lose outpatient psychiatric services, such as counseling and medications, through nonprofit health centers; an additional 165 adults with psychiatric issues would lose access to housing.
- 98 children in need of out-of-home treatment because of aggression or self-harm would not receive psychiatric treatment.
- Families with developmentally disabled children may not be able to receive in-home aid or short-term placements in group homes when faced with a crisis in managing their children's behavior.
The Senate committee also approved 10 percent cuts in state general revenues for local public libraries, a head injury treatment program and the Alternatives to Abortion program. The latter program grants money to nonprofit agencies that provide services such as food, clothing, housing and ultrasounds in an attempt to encourage pregnant women to give birth instead of having abortions.
Earlier this year, a House committee voted to eliminate funding for the Alternatives to Abortion program. But that money was restored before the House passed its version of the budget.
Senators also decided to cut their own operating budget by about 5 percent, cut the budgets of various joint House and Senate committees by 10 percent and reduce their vehicle mileage reimbursements by 5 cents a mile. The mileage change is similar to one enacted this month for state employees in the executive branch.