Codey-Sarlo Efforts To Reverse Cuts To Mental Health System Victim Of Republican Partisanship

Measures to Reverse Governor’s Veto of Mental Health Programs Fail to Gain One Republican Vote

TRENTON – A package of resolutions sponsored by Senators Richard J. Codey and Paul A. Sarlo which would have overturned the Governor’s line-item veto of mental health services in the FY 2012 Budget failed to gain the Republican support needed to override the veto today.

“I think it’s unconscionable and an all-out assault on people with mental illness to let these cuts stand,” said Senator Codey, D-Essex, a longtime champion of mental health care in the Garden State. “Studies have shown that one in five families suffers from mental illness at some point. This is a disease that knows no barriers – whether regional, geographic or demographic. Black, white, Asian, Hispanic, North Jersey, South Jersey – everyone is affected by mental illness, and programs like the ones that the Governor cut through the use of the line-item veto make a difference in everyone’s lives.”

“If we can’t fund services for the mentally ill, or programs designed to ease social stigma attached to mental illness – a small fraction of the budget approved by the Legislature – then we have to take a serious look at our priorities in this funding document,” said Senator Sarlo, D-Bergen, Essex and Passaic, and Chairman of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. “Many of the Governor’s cuts actually represent a decrease over his initially proposed spending plan in February. People suffering from mental illness shouldn’t be caught in the crossfire because the Governor decided he wanted to teach the Democratic Legislature a lesson.”

The first resolution, SCR-230, sponsored by Senator Codey, would have overridden the Governor’s line-item veto which eliminated a $50,000 appropriation for the Governor’s Council on Mental Health Stigma, a panel created through Executive Order by then-Governor Codey in 2005, pursuant to a 2004 recommendation of the Governor’s Task Force on Mental Health. The Council on Mental Health Stigma, under the Department of Human Services, was tasked with organizing the activities of the State aimed at increasing awareness and understanding of mental disorders and overcoming the stigma associated with mental illness. The Council was authorized to perform its mission by developing and maintaining a mental health stigma Web site and hotline; educating the public and media about the evils of mental health stigma; performing advocacy services to local organizations, senior citizens, and pre- and post-natal specialty groups; and promoting peer support groups.

“Unfortunately, we’ve seen that mental health stigma results in fewer people seeking treatment, because they think that mental illness is some sign of weakness or some personal failing of character,” said Senator Codey. “I grew up in an era in which mental illness was a dirty little secret, and people suffering from mental illness were locked away from the light of day, simply because they had a disease. At the end of the day, $50,000 for reducing mental health stigma isn’t going to break the budget, but my Republican colleagues chose instead to side with partisanship over those suffering in silence with mental illness.”

The second resolution, SCR-232, sponsored by Senator Sarlo, would have overridden the Governor’s line-item veto of $450,000 for postpartum education in the FY 2012 Budget approved by the Legislature less than two weeks ago. The postpartum education program, which was instituted in 2005, was intended to increase public awareness of postpartum depression and encourage women to seek out support. This public awareness campaign included a Web site (www.njspeakup.com) with sections dedicated to consumers and health care professionals, a 24-7 postpartum depression help line, and emergency assistance for women suffering from postpartum depression.

“Over the last six years, New Jersey has increased outreach and advocacy for women suffering from postpartum depression, and our investment has paid dividends in terms of helping women access support services,” said Senator Sarlo. “To surreptitiously eliminate funding for postpartum outreach in the FY 2012 Budget, not through a legitimate hearing or a cost-benefit analysis, but through the stroke of a red pen, is absolutely abhorrent. I’m disappointed with my Republican colleagues who failed to do the right thing and help us restore funds for postpartum education and outreach.”

The final resolution, SCR-237, sponsored by Senator Codey, would have overridden the Governor’s line-item veto of $9 million for patient care and health services provided at the Senator Garrett W. Hagedorn Psychiatric Hospital. Hagedorn Psychiatric Hospital, located in Warren County, was originally slated for defunding and closure in last year’s budget, but after bipartisan objection was raised by Senator Codey and Senator Michael Doherty, R-Warren and Hunterdon, a task force was created to review the need for Hagedorn. Despite the Task Force’s finding that Hagedorn should continue operations, Governor Christie chose to veto funding for the hospital in the FY 2012 Budget.

“Last year, Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature stood together to oppose the defunding of Hagedorn Psychiatric Hospital, and we were able to achieve a compromise in which a task force reviewed the need for this facility,” said Senator Codey. “What a difference a year makes. At the end of the day, this line-item veto represents Governor Christie’s attempting to do through the power of the pen what he couldn’t do through the legislative process, and that’s to shut the doors on Hagedorn forever.”

All three resolutions received 24 votes in the affirmative – all Democrats – but failed to reach the 2/3 majority of votes needed, or 27 votes, to override the Governor’s veto.