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31 Days, 31 Ways: Intellectual Disability Funds Avoid Worst Cuts, Mental Health Services Preserved

DAY 6 of our 31-day series on the effects of new state laws and budget cuts: Mental health funding was spared draconian cuts, but some who rely on the state for intellectual disability aid will lose services.

Karen Godfrey and her two sons Timothy Godfrey, and Zachary Munn draw and play together with Ishele Graves and her daughter Mikaela Massey at Bluebonnet Trails Community Services in Round Rock, TX.

31 Days 31 Ways

Throughout the month of August, The Texas Tribune will feature 31 ways Texans' lives will change come Sept. 1, the date most bills passed by the Legislature — including the dramatically reduced budget — take effect. Check out our story calendar here

Day 6: State lawmakers kept funding for mental health services mostly level, but some Texans will still lose intellectual and developmental disability aid they've come to rely on.

Following the special session, Bluebonnet Trails, a mental health and intellectual disability services provider based in Williamson County, learned it would lose more than a quarter of its funding. 

Andrea Richardson, the program's executive director, was pleasantly surprised when the budget reductions she thought would force Bluebonnet to cut services to 2,000-plus individuals never materialized. But she was soon unpleasantly surprised by the dramatic cuts to mental health programs serving people with developmental disabilities. That particular money comes from the Texas Department of Aging and Disability.

“We’re looking at cutting about 470 persons from our services list,” Richardson says.

That's far fewer than 2,000, but it’s little consolation to those on the sharp end of the budget blade.

In July, contributing reporter Ben Philpott spoke with Texans who stand to lose their services. Listen to his story for KUT News below.

Separate from developmental disabilities funding is mental health services provided by the Department of State Health Services.

Audio: Ben Philpott's story for KUT News

 "Given the big picture budget situation, our mental health programs came out pretty well in terms of funding," said spokeswoman Carrie Williams.

Overall, legislators voted to maintain the current level of state and federal spending on community mental programs for adult, child, crisis and NorthStar programs (a publicly funded mental health and subtance abuse treatment service serving the Dallas/Fort Worth area) at roughly $1 billion a year. About $750 million of that amount comes from state general fund revenues.

Funding for state mental health hospitals will increase slightly, from $779 million to $783 million. The state's portion of that funding increased from $620.1 million to $626 million.

Community mental health hospital spending, which includes payments to providers who contract with the state, will increase from $60 million to $107 million. $30 million of that increase will fund a new community mental health facility in Montgomery County, and $10 million will be used to increase capacity in Harris County for mentally ill patients accused of crimes. 

Though mental health funding survived some of the draconian cuts proposed at the beginning of the legislative session, "that’s not to say there won’t be individual providers who see decreases and reductions," Williams said.

Resources for mental health services:

Texas Department of State Health Services "How To Get Help" page

Mental Health America of Texas

Texas Department of Aging and Disability

Ben Philpott contributed to this article.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story should have clarified funding for Bluebonnet Trails' intellectual disabilty programs comes from the Department of Aging and Disability.

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State government 82nd Legislative Session Department of State Health Services Mental health State agencies Texas Legislature