Capitol Alert

Prop. 63 is helping mentally ill Californians, Steinberg report says

Director of Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health Dr. Marvin Southard (right) speaks to former state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg on Wednesday. Southard spoke about the impacts of the programs funded by Proposition 63 in LA County.
Director of Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health Dr. Marvin Southard (right) speaks to former state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg on Wednesday. Southard spoke about the impacts of the programs funded by Proposition 63 in LA County. bnguyen@sacbee.com

A massive tax program former state Sen. Darrell Steinberg pushed to fund mental health services is providing relief to tens of thousands of Californians and decreasing homelessness, hospitalizations and arrests among mentally ill people treated in the programs, according to a report Steinberg released Wednesday.

The flattering report, which analyzed about half the $947 million spent on Proposition 63 services in 2011-12, follows two critical analyses of the Mental Health Services Act that voters approved in 2004. Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat, wrote Proposition 63 to levy a 1 percent income tax on California taxpayers earning $1 million or more per year to pay for mental health services.

In January, a state oversight panel reported that bureaucratic and technological shortcomings make it difficult, if not impossible, to analyze Proposition 63’s effects. And in 2013, the state auditor found that state agencies have not adequately monitored the county programs that receive Proposition 63 funds.

“This is responsive to some of the criticism,” Steinberg said in announcing the latest report during a news conference in the K Street offices of his new Steinberg Institute for Advancing Behavior Health Policy and Leadership.

“The public has the right to know, and we have not only the obligation, we have a tremendous opportunity here to educate the public that mental illness does not have to be a life sentence of helplessness.”

Steinberg’s group worked with the County Behavioral Health Directors Association to evaluate the results of programs that use Proposition 63 money to help homeless and other severely mentally ill people with a variety of services that include housing, substance abuse treatment and job training.

The study looked at the previous year’s history of a group of mentally ill adults entering an array of Proposition 63 programs known as “full-service partnerships.” It found a 47 percent decrease in homelessness among them at discharge from the program and a 42 percent drop in psychiatric hospitalizations and an 82 percent decrease in arrests among those enrolled one year or more.

“What made me happy was to see that over 35,000 people a year are benefiting from the full-service partnerships. And yet … we know there are more people who need the help,” Steinberg said.

The reductions in emergency room use, jail time, psychiatric hospitalizations and other public services contributed to a savings of more than $87.4 million, says Steinberg’s report.

Two people who benefited from Proposition 63 programs spoke about the help they’d received through a group called Turning Point.

“They took me off the streets,” said Michael Robinson, adding that the program helped him find an apartment, connect with support groups and find volunteer work.

Steinberg, the former leader of the state Senate who left office last year due to term limits, said the report would be the first of several to document the impacts of Proposition 63, which generates roughly $1 billion a year. A future report will look at a segment of the program that focuses on preventing mental illness and has generated complaints for funding activities like yoga and horseback riding.

Steinberg also announced that his institute will sponsor roughly a dozen bills in the Legislature this year addressing various aspects of mental health care that intersect with policies concerning veterans, criminal justice and education. Steinberg is not being paid to work on the mental health issues, so the law that forbids former lawmakers from lobbying their colleagues for at least a year after leaving office does not apply. His daughter Jordana went public last year with her own story of overcoming mental illness, and recently appeared with her dad to share her tale with local teens.

Call Laurel Rosenhall, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1083. Follow her on Twitter @LaurelRosenhall.

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