A 13 Billion Dollar Failure: Government oversight and mental health

By Oscar Dueñas Source: MHAS-LA

The Little Hoover Commission, a non-partisan and independent oversight agency released a report last week indicating that the Mental Health Services Act, passed into law in 2004, has failed to demonstrate any significant developments with $13 billion raised from the imposed income tax of 1% on people whose income exceeds $1 million.

The Mental Health Services Act (Prop. 63), written by former Assembly member Darrell Steinberg and mental health lobbyist Sherman Selix, was intended to generate money through the imposed tax to fund county mental health programs in California. The purpose of the Mental Health Services Act was to address several serious mental health issues, including prevention and early intervention programs, and augments current programs for mentally ill children, adults and seniors.

However, Little Hoover Commission Chairman Pedro Nava explains that the 2.2 million adults with mental health conditions have yet to benefit from the Mental Health Services Act, and that the Californian government has unsuccessfully appropriated the $13 billion that was collected from taxpayers.

The report reveals that the state government was not able to track the appropriation of the funds, and thus making it difficult to see any positive results. Leaving a large sum of taxpayer money untracked is a major failure by government officials. Although the counties have the responsibility of allocating the funds to different programs, the legislature failed to provide an oversight commission to make sure the funds were properly allocated to mentally ill patients until the eighth year of the of the law’s existence. It is evident that this commission has failed at its job.

An investigation done by the Associated Press in 2012 indicates that millions of dollar were used to fund general wellness programs, and used for patients that are not diagnosed with any mental illness. This programs include, but are not limited to providing yoga, gardening and horseback riding classes. Without properly tracking the funds and data, it is difficult to say whether there has any benefit for the 2.2 million California adults with health issues.

Prop. 63 passed, in large part, because of Steinberg’s previous success with similar legislation. His “Homeless Bill” encouraged and facilitated the transfer of homeless individuals with mental illnesses into shelters, and assisted them in getting back on their feet and into independent living. Prop. 63 had the potential to bring many changes to California’s mental health programs, but so far it has failed.

However, the California legislature has the opportunity to rectify its mistake. The language of Prop. 63 allows for the legislature to amend the law with a two-thirds vote if necessary. After 11 years of failing to see any conclusive improvements to the mental health issue in California, it is absolutely necessary for the legislature to amend the Mental Health Services Act and appropriately modify the law.

The Little Hoover report offers a few recommendations, including: a “prompt and dramatic review” of the oversight commission and expansion of its authority, presentation of appropriate financial reports, and the creation of an accessible database of the money collected. However insightful these provisions are in retrospect, they should have been put in effect since 2004, when the proposition was passed.

About $127 million of the Prop. 63 funds have been distributed in the San Francisco Bay Area, funding dozens of program, including an intervention service for youth, and various educational programs. But positive results are yet to be reported. California has yet again failed its citizens by misusing and not taking care of taxpayer money; the state has spent a huge sum of money to care for their mentally ill, but has not manifested in any meaningful results.

The finding of the Little Hoover Report has finally brought light to the issue of vanishing resources, but it took over ten years to realize failure of compliance. It is imperative that state watchdog organizations and Californians be vigilant whenever money is taken from one source and reallocated. When California voters pass a proposition demanding that the government look into an issue of social welfare, the government must act accordingly to the citizen’s demands, and not misplace $13 billion of taxpayer’s money. This level of incompetence by California’s elected officials cannot be tolerated, especially when Californians are already hesitant to let a new tax proposition pass.

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