By Marissa Perlman

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Sacramento County is looking to spend millions of dollars in state money meant for mental health services.

This comes as the Sacramento area is dealing with a growing mental health crisis. The county has $126 million to spend on mental health services.

Dr. Peter Beilenson with the County Health Department has a big job ahead. He has to spend millions of taxpayer dollars and fast. Leaders are scrambling to spend that cash before it’s too late.

“We think there’s a crisis now, with mental health and homelessness, and we should be spending the money on the services that they’re expected to be used for,” Dr. Beilenson said.

Joining the department within the last year, Dr. Beilenson found the surplus cash three months ago. He and his colleague immediately dove in to come up with a plan to spend it.

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“A couple of months ago we found out about the balance and we wanted to break through the obstacles in spending the money,” Beilenson said.

Dr. Beilenson says the $126 million comes from the Mental Health Services Act. MHSA taxes people making more than $1 million a year to fund local mental health programs. Beilsenson’s plan to spend it was unanimously approved by the county board of supervisors last week.

He says the county will now spend part of that money on the following programs:

– $5 million for a program giving people transitioning out of mental health crises in hospitals a place to recover.
– More than $2 million for mobile crisis support teams responding to mental health calls
– $14 million for future housing projects for homeless people with mental health issues.

Leaders with homeless resource groups like Loaves and Fishes in Sacramento say this cash flow could’ve been used for years now.

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“I’m a little concerned this wasn’t used up over time, and gotten out to the people that need it out there,” said Noel Kammerman with Loaves and Fishes.

But CBS13 is digging deeper, we asked, “Why was there a surplus in mental health tax dollars when these services are so desperately needed?”

Leaders with The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors says former county health department staff budgeted too conservatively. Dr. Beilenson says it’s a problem not unique to Sacramento County. Across the state, the spending philosophy has been to save, not spend.

But with new leadership, that’s changed.

“I think there were obstacles to the money being spent, but we’ve tackled those obstacles, now we have an actual process to get the money out,” said Beilenson.

After all of this, the county still has $32 million dollars leftover. Some it will go to reserve funding, which is required by law. But that money must be budgeted and spent over the next two years otherwise it will go back to the state and be given to other counties.

Marissa Perlman


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