Mental health and drug advocacy groups: Support now will save state money later

MONTCLAIR – Mental health advocates and addict recovery groups told the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee today that investments in community-based health care now will led to billions of dollars in annual savings.

Many groups testified during the morning session of the public budget hearing held today at Montclair State University.

Dr. Debra Wentz, the chief executive officer of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies Inc., asked the panel to support the mental health provisions outlined in Gov. Christie’s proposed budget.

Christie’s proposed budget calls for $34.6 million in new funding for the Department of Human Services, Wentz told the panel.

“NJAMHAA asks you to support this expansion of funding community services for mental health and substance use disorders because it is the right thing to do and will also foster the state’s fiscal recovery now,” Wentz testified. 

Every time she used the phrase “recovery now,” a group of approximately 25 recovering addicts standing behind her echoed the phrase.

Earl Lipphardt, the senior director of Integrity Inc., a substance abuse treatment facility, said “every dollar spent today will save $10 tomorrow,” and asked for continued funding for community-based treatment.

The groups argued that their programs keep residents out of jail and mental health hospitals, which could cost the state much more money in the long run.

Many advocacy groups were, for the most part, in favor of the funding proposed in the budget, but there were some concerns.

Candice Singer from the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence said the proposed money for the drug court program is “wholly insufficient.”

Singer said Christie’s proposals for drug court would reduce the prison population by about 1,600 people.

“That’s a savings of $45 million, that money should be re-allocated into the drug court program,” Singer said.

Walter Bender of The ARC of New Jersey, a group that helps those with mental disabilities, said that while he supports many of the proposals in the budget, he hopes there will be an increase for local mental health agencies.

“I’m asking, for all the families that I represent, to support a 3 percent increase to cover the cost of care,” Bender said.

Kathy Walsh, the president and CEO of ARC of Bergen and Passaic counties and a board member of ACCESS New Jersey, asked the committee to maintain the services outlined in the proposed budget.

“Every dollar that New Jersey invests in these programs is returned with substantial interest,” Walsh said. “These programs are putting people to work,” she said, adding that there is a return investment of approximately 4:1 for the state.

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