DHHS dealing with $4.3 million 'accidental' cut to mental health

A miscue in the budget process led lawmakers to cut funding for mental health services by $4.3 million more than intended.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Lawmakers cut $4.3 million more than they intended from the state's mental health safety net program this summer, officials with the Department of Health and Human Services told the legislature Tuesday.

The cut, which amounts to roughly 1 percent of state spending on mental health, affects the money available to local mental health agencies to provide services such as guardianship for those with developmental disabilities.

The General Assembly is out of session and can't fix the problem by appropriating more money or making other changes. However, DHHS Secretary Al Delia asked the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services for informal permission to fix the problem by shifting money around in the department's budget.

"Fix it, yes," said Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake. 

Other lawmakers were less sanguine. 

"You're telling me that for 45 days you've not been able to distribute that money?" asked Sen. Tommy Tucker, R-Union. "Have we eliminated those services?"

Delia and his staff said local mental health agencies had thus far picked up the slack but need money from the state if they are to continue providing the services in question.

"That's why our conversation this morning was so important," Delia said.

The cut happened because of confusion over which line in the budget should have been used to account for it. The error was spotted late in the legislative session, but by then, it was too late for lawmakers to fix it.

“The Arc of North Carolina appreciates the hard work and advocacy of Governor Perdue, Secretary Delia and the leadership of the House and Senate in realizing the serious nature of this additional 4.3 million dollar cut and the need to fix this as quickly as possible to ensure the continuation of services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities," said Julia Adams. Assistant Director of Government Relations for the ARC of North Carolina. The ARC advocates on behalf of those with developmental disabilities.


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