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Iowa mental health care advocates celebrate shift in services’ funding mechanism
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Iowa mental health care advocates celebrate shift in services’ funding mechanism

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Reynolds bill sign 6-16

Surrounded by state lawmakers and mental health care advocates and stakeholders, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signs into law a package of state tax reforms during a public ceremony at YSS in Ames on Wednesday, June 16, 2021. The package included a transition of mental health care funding from local property taxes to the state's general fund. Photo by Erin Murphy. 

AMES — Friederich Burson said he has benefited from the help offered by a nonprofit youth support services organization, and his hope is that a new state law will help others in similar need.

Burson, a 17-year-old from Sioux City, spoke Wednesday at a public ceremony as Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law a package of tax provisions that includes a new method for funding mental health care services across the state.

Mental health care advocates and stakeholders were on hand to celebrate the new law.

“This will ensure that others can succeed just like I have,” Burson said during the ceremony at YSS in Ames.

Dozens were on hand to witness Reynolds sign into law Senate File 619, which includes a wide range of tax reforms.

Mental health care advocates celebrated the legislation’s provision that gradually shifts the funding for mental health care services from local property taxes to the state’s general fund.

“It’s big and it’s important,” said Peggy Huppert, executive director of Iowa’s chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “It was an antiquated way of funding services, and it did not encourage collaboration … because every county was so concerned with what their (mental health property tax) levy was.”

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Andrew Allen, president and CEO of YSS, called Wednesday “a big day for Iowans” as the new mental health care funding method was signed into law.

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“Today brings hope and opportunity to millions of Iowans, gives them access to behavioral health services statewide,” Allen said. “This work is so important, and the stakes are so high, and the needs are so great.”

Reynolds, the Republican governor, described the new funding system as a “steady and reliable funding source” that puts mental health care services “on firm footing for decades to come” and creates “sustainability and predictability.”

The gradual funding shift from local property taxes to the state will require additional state spending: the shift will cost the state a projected $120.3 million in the state budget year that ends in June of 2023 and increase gradually to $145.9 million by 2030, according to the state’s nonpartisan fiscal analysis agency.

In a statement, Iowa Democratic Party state chairman Ross Wilburn, who is also a state lawmaker from Ames, asserted the new law does not necessarily ensure adequate funding for mental health care services.

By shifting the funding mechanism to the state, that funding will be a part of the annual state budgeting process conducted by the governor and state lawmakers.

“Our health care system in Iowa is in crisis and struggling to recover from the pandemic. We should focus on investing more money into mental health care to provide Iowans with the critical support so many still don’t have access to,” Wilburn said in the statement.

The new law also contains a provision that requires mental health care providers be reimbursed for virtual services at the same rate they are for in-person services. The so-called tele-health parity was another provision sought by mental health care advocates and stakeholders.

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