Feb 26, 2009
Trying to figure out what's possible in volatile times.
Understanding how state government and its budgets work is never an easy task. But it is a critical component of effective advocacy.
At this moment, advocates, law makers and state officials are all scrambling to make sense of not only the needs of government operations, social service clients, families and delivery systems, but they are also faced with the moving targets of a plummeting tax base, two state funding cycles, two federal funding cycles and a complex federal stimulus package.
The state Ways and Means Committee has almost finished its work in reconfiguring the state budget that will end on June 30 of this year. Thanks to the federal stimulus package, cuts were tough ($311M) but not drastic. But there may need to be further cuts in May if fiscal projections get worse. And then there is the next budget cycle (2009-2011) in which the state will be billions of dollars short of being able to maintain current service levels.
Are there opportunities for new state revenues? Are there chances to change inefficient or ineffective policies and services? What should be our priorities? We're all trying to figure it out.
Advocates preserve $13 million for mental health community housing.
While looking over a list of proposed cuts to the state budget last week, I noticed that $6.5 million were slated to be removed from the Community Housing Trust Fund. That is half of the entire Fund. This was not good.
Back in 1999, a Community Housing Trust Fund was set up by law. The proceeds of the sale of Dammasch State
Hospital property (minus
sale costs) was directed to be placed into the Trust for investment.
Earnings of the account and no more that 5% of the principal were to be
available to the state to use for community housing and institutional housing
for people with mental illness. Other moneys could be added to the Trust
by the legislature or through other sources. The proceeds amounted to about $13 million.
The statute that creates the Trust (ORS 426.506) specifically says that "At least 95 percent of the sale proceeds shall remain in the account in perpetuity." It also says that "all moneys in the fund are continuously appropriated to the Department of Human Services to carry out” the purpose of the trust.
I alerted our partners on the Community Mental Health Coalition that we needed to take action. We learned that the final decision about the Trust would be made this week. NAMI Oregon sent an alert to its members and many organizations and individuals sent messages to Ways and Means Committee Members asking that the Trust Fund be held harmless.
Today, we received official word that only $400,000 in unspent interest would be taken from the Trust. While not protecting all of the money, this keeps the principal of the Trust intact.
In this budget environment, we have achieved a great victory for the mental health community. A key component to recovery is stable housing. Without it, people are often rendered homeless and are at high risk to experience crisis and institutionalization. We have preserved both the principal and the principles of community housing and trust in government.