WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Rep. John Faso, R-19, sent a letter to the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee on Wednesday asking members to prioritize funding for programs that support mental health services.
Several mental health programs have not received an increase in funding over recent years. The programs were authorized a continuation of funds under the 21st Century Cures Act, — a law passed in December 2016 to help ensure earlier intervention and better mental health treatment options — but the programs have yet to receive the money because the Appropriations Committee has not approved it.
“Being someone who has mental illnesses I know it affects a lot of things,” said Lance Fongemie, of Hudson. “I know the things I struggle with are a factor in bad decisions I have made,”
Fongemie said he struggles with bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression — afflictions for which he gets help through Columbia County’s mental health program.
“The county program is definitely helping,” Fongemie said. “It is different to sit with a professional, they do a lot to help.
“There are a lot of options out there that people do not know about.”
Congress needs to do more to support metal health services, Fongemie said.
“I think Congress needs to do more,” he said. “I know budgeting is tough. A lot of people fall through the cracks who could be helped. I have insurance, but some people do not have financial means to get help.”
Reps. Fred Upton, R-Mich.; Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn.; and Debbie Dingell, D-Mich.; also sent a letter to the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee to prioritize funding for programs under the 21st Century Cures Act including suicide prevention, crisis response and different grant programs aimed at improving the coordination of mental health treatments. The committee is working on an omnibus package for fiscal year 2018.
“Strengthening mental health programs is of vital significance and Congress made substantial progress in this area in the 21st Century Cures Act,” Faso said. “Unfortunately, due to the constant short-term budget measures, not every improvement made has been implemented. This letter demonstrates a strong bipartisan desire to prioritize these programs in the next must-pass government spending bill.”
Mostly Republicans from the state congressional delegation signed the letter with only two Democrats: Rep. Yvette Clarke, from Brooklyn, and Rep. Paul Tonko, representing the Capital Region.
The country is facing more of a drug problem than a mental illness crisis, said Rita Young, of Cairo.
“I think if you stop the drugs taken by parents and children that would solve a lot of problems,” Young said.
The state and nation are in the midst of a heroin and opioid addiction epidemic.
Columbia County had two opioid overdose deaths between April and June last year, according to the latest data from the state Health Department. Sixteen opioid-related overdoses were reported in the same period.
The state Health Department’s data show Greene County had one overdose death between January and March of last year and none the next quarter, but had 13 opioid-related overdoses between April and June of 2017.
“It’s a shame, because it’s the children who suffer,” Young said.
Faso’s push for funds comes as federal lawmakers, especially Republicans, talk about mental health issues in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14 where a former student killed 17 people.
Many Republicans argue poor mental health was the cause of the massacre, while many argue the list of causes also include lax federal gun control laws.
President Donald Trump called for more money for mental health programs after the Parkland school shooting while also pushing several gun control measures, but proposed eliminating a $400 million grant program that schools can use for safety and security measures as well as fighting bullying and assisting students with mental health issues.
“I think it is a mental health issue, not a firearms issue,” said Joann Jubie, of Catskill. “Mental illness has always been an issue, I think it is more prevalent now because of the media. Someone should do more to deal with mental illness in this country.”