NCYL and other mental health advocates were rebuffed in their efforts to save a model program that provided intensive community-based services to nearly 5,000 adults with serious mental illness. At issue was whether a provision in the state’s Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) prevented the Governor from cutting funding for the program, known as the AB 2034 program. The Mental Health Services Act, or Proposition 63, created a tax on the wealthy to fund expanded mental health services in California.
The Appeals Court held that while Prop 63 prohibits reductions in mental health spending below the total amount spent in the benchmark year, it does not protect individual programs from elimination. The Court also held that increased “indirect” costs to the counties from the loss of the program, such as higher jail and hospital costs, did not violate Prop 63’s restriction on changing the structure of mental health funding.
The original lawsuit to restore the program was filed in late 2007 by the state’s largest and most influential groups advocating for homeless individuals with mental illness. Advocates say the program was vital to their clients’ safety and well-being.
Former Gov. Schwarzenegger eliminated the program when he cut $55 million of its funding in August 2007 through a line-item veto. As a result, programs in 34 of the state’s 58 counties were forced to shut down, leaving counties scrambling to find alternative funding or provide services through other programs. Many adults lost housing, employment, treatment, and other services, “thus destroying the progress they have made in managing their conditions and reintegrating into society,” the suit said. The program, previously praised by the Governor as a national model for its success in helping this population, served nearly 4,700 people.
Plaintiffs included statewide advocacy groups as well as individual clients who credit the program with helping them quit drugs, attend college classes, or get their own apartment. The advocacy groups are the Mental Health Association in California, California Network of Mental Health Clients, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness California.
The state legislature authorized funding for the AB 2034 program in 2000, and it had been fully funded each year until the former Governor cut funding beginning in 2008. In an attempt to lessen the blow of the governor’s veto, the Department of Mental Health made a one-time $64 million in unspent Proposition 63 administrative funds available to cover the cost of services provided through AB 2034.
The lawsuit charged that Proposition 63 expressly prohibits the use of its funds to pay for mental health services already in existence when the measure was passed. Proposition 63 was passed in November 2004 to expand, not replace, mental health services, advocates said. In addition, the $64 million is a stop-gap measure, available for only one year.
Plaintiffs also sought review of the decision by the California Supreme Court, the the Court declined to take the case.
Plaintiffs were being represented by Disability Rights California, Oakland, CA; Western Center on Law & Poverty, Los Angeles, CA; Mental Health Advocacy Services, Los Angeles, CA; National Center for Youth Law, Oakland, CA; and the law firm of Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk & Rabkin, San Francisco, CA.
The organizational plaintiffs included the Mental Health Association in California, California Network of Mental Health Clients, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness California.