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Mills boosts behavioral health funding in supplemental budget

Gov. Janet Mills attends an event at the Blaine House, Friday, March 11, 2022, in Augusta, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
Gov. Janet Mills attends an event at the Blaine House, Friday, March 11, 2022, in Augusta, Maine.

Maine's behavioral health providers will get an additional $36.8 million in state and federal funding through Gov. Janet Mills' supplemental budget.

The governor included the extra funding after lawmakers and providers highlighted the toll the fractured mental health system is taking on Maine's children and adults in need of care.

A recent survey by the Behavioral Health Community Collaborative showed waitlists increased from 561 clients in 2019 to more than 8,700 clients in 2021.

Malory Shaughnessy, executive director of the Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services, says the additional funding will stabilize the behavioral health system in the short term.

"That's what this will do," Shaughnessy says. "Help the waitlist from continuing to grow, bring on providers, begin to turn around the jam in the system, with this immediate infusion of funding."

Shaughnessy says long-term fixes for Maine's mental health system are still ahead, but the collaborative efforts of caregivers, lawmakers and state officials is a good first step.

Mills is proposing an additional $19.7 million of state funding for children’s residential care, assertive community treatment, targeted case management and outpatient therapy. With federal matching dollars added in, that will bring behavioral health funding in the governor's spending proposal to $65 million.

Waterville lawmaker Colleen Madigan, a licensed social worker, says two of her bills that address the urgent need for children's behavioral health care and community treatment will get short-term funding.

"Remember two years ago we talked about the impending mental health crisis due to the pandemic, and here we are," Madigan says. "There's increased demand and need for these services and it's really vital for Mainers' mental health."

Madigan says the supplemental budget funding will increase MaineCare rates by 25% for community mental health providers until official rate increases later this year.

If passed by the Legislature, the governor’s supplemental budget, biennial budget and community-based services funded by the American Rescue Plan would make a total investment of $230 million in behavioral health in fiscal years 2022 and 2023.