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SB 55 amends current law relating to the creation of a grant program to support community mental health programs for veterans with mental illness. This legislation intends to create a grant program at the Health and Human Services Commission that will receive a dollar-for-dollar match up to $20,000,000 over the next biennium.
This bill is a continuation of a program started last year that received matched funding from a private third-party up to $1,000,000. The discretion for the rules, criteria, and implementation are given to the Executive Commissioner of the Health and Human Services Commission. While the fiscal note for this legislation has a negative balance of $20 million dollars, it is offset by being matched dollar-for-dollar by third-party private entities. We are sympathetic to the intent of this legislation, which is to reduce veteran mental health costs that the public is already paying by housing patients in state facilities, jails, picking up the cost of emergency room visits, etc. Those are costs taxpayers are already paying but which are difficult to quantify and lack transparency because they are not directly appropriated for the purpose of veterans mental health.
In our view this legislation goes in the right direction of reducing taxpayer funded healthcare costs to support our veterans. While the evidence that would spell out exactly how what the long term savings to taxpayers would be is inconclusive, the general trend is visible and there is sufficient anecdotal evidence to make us optimistic that this will save the taxpayers in the long term while doing right by our veterans who have been so miserably failed by the federal government. A great supporting example is Haven for Hope in San Antonio, which is a privately operated program funded with more than 50 percent private dollars that works in conjunction with local law enforcement and other social agencies and produces proven results.
A Texas Public Policy Foundation report said this about the prospects of other entities like the Haven House:
“The results of this incentive-based, continuum-of-care approach have been dramatic. Today, over a thousand men, women, and children are served at Haven for Hope at any one time, and the homeless population has decreased significantly in downtown San Antonio. Haven for Hope has saved the city and county $50 million over the past five years. The Restoration Center alone saves more than $10 million every year.”
While we believe this moves preventative care in a fiscally sound direction, we realize that the prospective benefits to the state are still speculative at this point. For that reason we remain neutral on SB 55.