Department of Mental Health: Tax-cut bill will force facility closures, job losses

Friday, September 6, 2013 | 4:26 p.m. CDT; updated 6:16 p.m. CDT, Friday, September 6, 2013

COLUMBIA — The Missouri Department of Mental Health has lost more than 1,300 positions since 2008 and stands to lose as many as 850 more if Republicans are able to override Gov. Jay Nixon's veto House Bill 253.

The department warned in an August report and reiterated this week that if the legislature overrides Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a controversial tax-cut bill, the department would lose more than $160 million in funding, be forced to close residential care facilities and cut reimbursements to mental health providers.

About $76 million of the overall reductions would come from losing out on federal matching grants, according to the department.

Entire residential facilities would be closed and others would reduce services and regional offices would be shuttered, resulting in a loss of department jobs across the state.

Actions the department says it would have to take if HB 253 is overridden include:

  • Closing two residential care facilities for children — Hawthorn Children’s Psychiatric Hospital in St. Louis and Cottonwood Residential Treatment Center in Cape Girardeau;
  • Eliminating funds to house more than 1,500 mentally ill people;
  • Cutting rates by more than 5 percent to providers that serve developmentally disabled patients;
  • Six regional developmental disability offices would be closed (in Albany, Hannibal, Joplin, Kirksville, Poplar Bluff and Rolla);
  • Reducing a quarter of the funding for five regional autism projects.

The threats of budget cuts come as part of a larger chorus from Nixon and his administration about the potential impacts of overturning his veto.

Meanwhile, Republicans and outside groups have countered by arguing the governor played politics with his withholding powers, possibly unconstitutionally. Nixon froze $400 million in June, awaiting final action during Wednesday's veto session.

Republicans insist the tax-cut would improve the state's economy and grow revenue in the long run by attracting business with lower tax rates.

Rep. Sue Allen, R-Town & Country, chair of the Appropriations Committee for Health, Mental Health and Social Services, said Nixon's response to HB 253 was a political move to incite fears about cuts to a variety of state services, including education and mental health programs.

“These withholds were put out there to get people upset and worried,” Allen said.

Allen said she does not believe all of the cuts outlined in the Mental Health Department's report would take place if the veto was overridden, but she said a “reorganizing” of mental health services could be necessary regardless of the outcome of the veto session.

“We don’t have a shortfall,” she said. "We balanced the budget."

Allen said she expected the tax cut bill to come up for an override during next week’s session and was hopeful the Republican caucus would hold together.

At an event opposing HB 253 at MU on Thursday, Rep. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said he thought Republicans were still at least five votes short of the two-thirds needed to override a veto. He said he has not decided which way he would vote on an override.

Providers might have to do without

Misty Snodgrass of the Missouri Coalition of Community Health Centers said many of the providers in the organization’s network would lose funding if HB 253 was enacted. She said members of the organization have contacted their legislators to express concerns about the cuts that might have to go into effect.

She said member organizations served 250,000 Missourians. The agencies in the network provide a range of services including individual and group therapy, drug and alcohol abuse counseling, residential and out-patient treatment.

“We have to provide these services,” Snodgrass said.

The report points out that while the tax cuts in the bill will be phased in only if state revenues reach certain growth targets, these targets are still below the amount state departments have had to pay from inflation in expenditures on fuel and utilities, food services, health care and pharmacy for clients.

Prior to the release of the August report, department officials "met with representatives of all the facilities and providers that would be directly affected by the potential impacts of House Bill 253 if it is enacted," according to department spokeswoman Debra Walker.

Supervising editor is Gary Castor.

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