JACKSON, Mississippi — Mississippi's Department of Mental Health says it can use money it already has to comply with pledges to federal authorities to create more community living spots.
Thursday, Executive Director Diana Mikula told lawmakers it doesn't need more state money in the 2016 budget beginning July 1. State agencies are presenting requests to the 14-member Joint Legislative Budget Committee this week, setting the stage for negotiations that won't intensify until the 2015 Legislature begins.
The U.S. Department of Justice threatened to sue Mississippi in 2011 if it didn't move people out of mental hospitals and into community settings, alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. A legislative watchdog committee found earlier this year that Mississippi spends a larger share of its money on mental hospitals and a smaller share on community care than any other state.
In an Aug. 29 letter, Attorney General Jim Hood agreed to engage in settlement talks. He also pledged to try to settle a 2010 lawsuit that alleges the state also improperly pushes mentally ill children into psychiatric institutions. In exchange, the federal government agreed not to sue Mississippi for at least six months. Hood told lawmakers Thursday that his goal remained avoiding a lawsuit entirely.
"We're going to hopefully come into compliance over three or four years to integrate people back into the community who can be integrated," Hood said.
In the letter, the state agreed to create another 250 community living slots for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, above the 650 created in recent years. The state has a waiting list of 1,750 for those slots.
Mikula said that the department got $16 million this year to increase community living and hasn't been able to spend all of it. She urged lawmakers to appropriate another $16 million in 2016.
"We do require this funding continue to maintain the community-based programs we have," she said.
She said the state also has $9.5 million in federal Medicaid money meant to promote community living that it can spend on the program through the end of the 2016 budget. But Mikula warned that money would run out in 2017, and the state would need to add an estimated $13 million.
Part of the higher spending will go to increase Medicaid payment rates to home and community service providers. She said some providers won't do business in Mississippi because rates are so low.
The state also promised the Department of Justice to create permanent community-based housing for 50 people with mental illness. Hood said the housing would cost $1.4 million, and urged lawmakers to appropriate the money to Mental Health. Department spokeswoman Wendy Bailey said that her department isn't seeking that funding and said the housing "doesn't only address individuals with mental illness."
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