SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — State Senate leader Darrell Steinberg is meeting this week with Obama administration and congressional officials in Washington, D.C., to promote California's approach to dealing with mental illness as a model for the nation.
California's Mental Health Services Act, approved by voters eight years ago, raises $1 billion a year for early intervention and treatment through a special tax on millionaires.
Steinberg is urging the federal government to devote $10 billion to help states establish additional mental health programs, perhaps by making treatment a priority under Medicaid and the federal Affordable Care Act.
The Senate president pro tem, a Democrat from Sacramento, met Tuesday with aides to Vice President Joe Biden, who headed President Barack Obama's review of gun control and mental health efforts after the Newton, Conn., school shooting. He also met with representatives of national mental health advocacy groups.
"We are leading the country in identifying early signs of mental illness especially in young people and then in doing something about it," Steinberg said in a telephone interview. "They confirmed for us that nobody is doing what California is doing, on the scale that we are doing it. No one is putting $1 billion a year into community mental health."
The Associated Press reported in August that tens of millions of dollars from Steinberg's Proposition 63 has gone to general wellness programs for people who had not been diagnosed with any mental illness, and Steinberg has asked auditors to review the program. Other critics say not enough money is going to those already diagnosed with serious mental illness.
But Steinberg said the biggest problem is that about $750 million has been taken out of mental health programs to deal with budget cuts even as the initiative raised $1 billion from a 1 percent surtax on incomes exceeding $1 million.
He said early intervention and treatment is key to preventing violence like last month's massacre in Connecticut, where a young gunman killed 20 elementary school students, six educators and himself. He pointed to a Sacramento County program funded by Proposition 63 that has screened 1,300 young people for early signs of mental illness in the last five years, then treated those who needed help.
He has meetings scheduled through Wednesday with California's U.S. senators and representatives including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from San Francisco, and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from Bakersfield.