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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Mental-health service workers and recipients rallied across Alabama on Monday, asking lawmakers not to cut millions in funding for the Alabama Department of Mental Health.
The department is at risk of losing $35.2 million in state funds and another $64 million in matching federal funds, which some say will have a severe impact on the thousands who depend on funding.
Chris Stewart, president of The Arc of Jefferson County, a nonprofit organization working with the intellectually and developmentally disabled, told hundreds in Birmingham that Alabama ranks last in funding for the disabled.
"How do you cut a percentage of a person's health care? How do you cut a percentage of a person's residential services? How do you cut a percentage of a person's food? People are not something that can be dealt with in percentages," Stewart said.
The Alabama Legislature is considering a number of measures for how to fill a $290 million deficit in the state's general fund budget. Gov. Robert Bentley has proposed a $541 million tax package to address both short-term and long-term budget issues, but lawmakers have been slower to consider raising new revenue. Last week, House Republicans unveiled their plan for new taxes that would raise less than a third of the revenue the governor has requested.
In an April memo to legislators, Bentley said more than 24,000 people with mental illness would lose or experience reductions in services, and 1,080 community mental-health employees would lose their jobs.
Speaking in Mobile at one of several rallies statewide, Bentley said outpatient mental-health services provide better and more financially efficient results than inpatient hospitals. However, many of those services would be reduced if budget cuts are enacted, he said.
"People with intellectual disabilities should not be in institutions," Bentley said.
Cindy Smith, whose son Julian was diagnosed with schizophrenia at 19 during his first year at Brown University, said her son, now 43, depends on mental-health services from the state. He depends on funding from Medicare and Medicaid to pay for medication, which she said costs $5,000 a month.
In an interview after the Birmingham rally, Smith said she's worried about what will happen to her son if he loses outpatient services: He would lose his place to live. He would lose his psychiatrist. He would be on his own, she said.
"Hopefully he will come home and live with me, but what he does is, he goes in the front door and out the back door and I have no idea where he is," she said. "And then he doesn't take his medicine, and he would either be dead, in jail, in prison. It wouldn't be good."