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Opponents of latest AR state tax cuts say they benefit wealthy Arkansans; Julian Assange agrees to a plea deal that would allow him to avoid imprisonment in US; Tech-based carbon-capture projects make headway in local government; NV nonprofit calls Biden's student debt initiatives economic justice.

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Charges against fake electors in Nevada are dismissed, Milwaukee officials get ready to expect the unexpected at the RNC convention, and the Justice Department says Alaska is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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A Minnesota town claims the oldest rural Pride Festival while rural educators say they need support to teach kids social issues, rural businesses can suffer when dollar stores come to town and prairie states like South Dakota are getting help to protect grasslands.

NE behavioral health advocates, consumers question $15 million funding shift

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Thursday, March 28, 2024   

A 2023 study from the University of Nebraska Medical Center concluded the number of Nebraskans with a mental health or substance abuse disorder has probably increased over the pre-pandemic level of 20%. It also observed 88 of Nebraska's 93 counties have a shortage of behavioral health professionals.

Nonetheless, the state budget now awaiting Gov. Jim Pillen's signature cuts $15 million from the Division of Behavioral Health's funding for the state's six Behavioral Health Regions, which distribute those funds to providers. Many advocates believe the cut is based on an incorrect conclusion.

Annette Dubas, executive director of the Nebraska Association of Behavioral Health Organizations, said because $15 million remained in the budget for the Regions, it was concluded the money was not needed. In fact, she said much of it was for projects and proposals awaiting Department of Health and Human Services approval.

"The problem is not that it's not needed; there's a problem with getting it out the door and into services quickly," Dubas explained. "Because we know the demand is there. And if it's not being spent, let's figure out why. That's what we want the governor to sit down and talk to us about, so we can figure out where the holdups are."

The $15 million will be shifted to the Lincoln Regional Center for hiring nurses and other staff. Dubas questioned how realistic it is for the center to spend this amount of money on staffing, especially when the state is facing a nursing shortage of more than 5,000 by 2025. She also questioned what will happen to any money left unspent.

Dubas stressed the Division of Behavioral Health is not the only agency losing money through this budget process.

"This administration has gone into a lot of different funds, cash funds, etc., and kind of swept out money that they perceive is not being used or is not being spent, to use to help with their property tax relief," Dubas asserted.

The Pillen administration is paying Epiphany Associates from Utah $2.5 million annually for up to four years, to find savings of up to 25% across state agency budgets.

Chase Francl, CEO of the Mid-Plains Center for Behavioral Health, which receives about 40% of its funding from Region III, said cutting programs that save the state money cannot be considered cutting "waste."

"Mental health and substance use treatment really is a prevention service," Francl contended. "If we can get this right, then people are going back to work and maybe aren't ending up in corrections. And you start restricting here, you usually are just going to be creating a greater need for more costly services down the road."

Mid-Plains served 3,200 people in Grand Island, Kearney and Lincoln last year. Francl added they currently have about 60 people on a waitlist for therapy services.


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