Kids' mental health going unaddressed

By:  Kathleen Stoll
March 17, 2022

A new report from the Hopeful Futures Campaign found that 21,000 West Virginia school-age kids have major depression. Of these children, 13,000 do not receive treatment.

“We have the highest rate of kids in foster and kinship care, who shuffle from facility to facility with few belongings to call their own. We have the highest rate of kids in households affected by opioid use disorder, so many are living with dead or incarcerated parents and with the constant chaos that often comes with substance use disorder. We also have one of the highest rates of child poverty, so even pre-pandemic, many kids didn’t know where their next meal would come from or whether they’d have a roof over their head that night,” Erin Beck explained in a December 2021 Think Kids post.

There is no question that West Virginia needs federal funds to address children’s mental health needs.

Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Chairwoman Patty Murray, D- Wash., is calling for a comprehensive mental health package to pass in Congress. “Bipartisan interest has been brewing for a significant legislative package to address growing mental health needs,” she said.

“While there is a lot that divides us these days, mental health and substance abuse are areas where we are finding true bipartisan consensus. And I hope we can build a legislative package that addresses these issues head-on,” echoed Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

Call me naïve, but hope springs eternal that Congress will advance good legislation with bipartisan support. Yeah, I know, the upcoming elections will further widen the dysfunctional political party divide.

Why do I hear my Mom’s voice saying, “People in hell want ice water, too?”

Yeah Mom, I want a big glass of bipartisanship served in Washington. I want to see Republicans and Democrats working together to help our kids. Let’s serve up some lemonade in hell.

It would be refreshing if the parties came together to increase funding for kids’ mental health services.

Murkowski and Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., plan to introduce a bill to fund school mental health programming through Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) grants. This bill could become part of a comprehensive legislative package tackling mental health issues that the Senate Finance Committee is drafting. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., has introduced a bill to expand mental health services in schools. Sen. Rapheal Warnock, D-Ga., also is working on a bill.

Funding for enhanced kids’ mental health services can come through SAMHSA grants or other paths. But the need for federal investments in these services is clear, and as great in West Virginia as in any state.

Lots of bills get introduced in Congress. For most, passage depends on getting into the annual appropriations package. The congressional appropriations process is stickier than a spilled glass of lemonade.

Right now, Congress just wrapped up the fiscal year 2022 appropriations package, which technically ended in September, but, as usual, the federal government kept running under temporary continuing resolutions. Any day now, President Joe Biden will present his proposed budget to kick-start FY23 appropriations negotiations. Basically, it’s a never-ending process.

For fun, I looked up the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. The PDF is 1,271 pages. Even more detail ends up in committee reports.

Lots of good and bad federal policies and programs are created via this crazy process that can seem daunting to influence. But not impossible.

Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., are on the Senate Appropriations Committee and on the subcommittee chaired by Murray that has jurisdiction over most health care issues (with the snappy title: Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies). Key to having a bill or new funding make it into the final appropriations package is finding subcommittee members to champion it.

How do members select what they will push for? Certainly, powerful lobbyists and campaign contributions can try to sweeten a choice. But, when it comes to picking which glass of lemonade to carry, working in D.C. taught me that the voices of voters back home make a difference.

If West Virginia parents, providers and educators repeatedly ask our senators to prioritize funding children’s mental health services in schools and communities, we can get that glass of lemonade served.

Kathleen Stoll is the policy director for West Virginians for Affordable Health Care (wvahc.org) and operates a policy and economic consulting business, Kat Consulting.


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