by Joel Smith & r & The federal government cuts back on its Medicaid generosity this year, stiffing the state of Washington to the tune of $82 million. The state makes up most of the difference itself and hands the money to its Department of Social and Health Services to distribute among Washington's 14 Regional Support Networks, which then funnel the money into local mental health care programs.
Problem is, between the federal funding shortfall and DSHS' new small-county-friendly way of distributing its dollars, Spokane County gets left holding the bag. Beginning in July, county officials project a $7.5 million shortfall in its funding for local mental health services, which they trace directly to bungling and miscalculation by DSHS. (DSHS acknowledges the county is short on dough after denying it for weeks but maintains their claim that they did no wrong.)
Long story short, local mental health providers, watching the county's budget shrink, start slashing at their own budgets. Scores of positions are eliminated. Hundreds of patients are either turned away or shuffled around.
Thus, Spokane County Proposition 2, an advisory proposition that would recommend to the county commissioners a three-year sales and use tax of 1/10 of one percent, which would raise $6.5 million a year to fill the gap in the mental health budget.
Voters we spoke with Tuesday seemed overwhelmingly in favor of the proposition. "I think it's atrocious how mental health funding has been cut," said Lynette Destefano, an administrator for the state's Unemployment Claims Telecenter.
"They need the money -- simple as that," said Fairchild computer assets manager Tom Forin.
Others agreed that mental health care is important but didn't see it as a top priority. "I just feel that enough is being done. There's better uses and more needs for funds in other areas," said Dennis Seymour. "Police, law enforcement, fire and those types of things [are under-funded]."
At press time, the proposition was ahead by 14 percent. But the story's not over yet. Pending passage, the issue still has to be approved by county commissioners before the tax can be levied.