Mental health groups praise Gov. DeSantis for funding behavioral health
Ron DeSantis with Casey DeSantis.

First Lady Casey DeSantis has been central to the state's mental health efforts.

Behavioral health groups are thanking Gov. Ron DeSantis for prioritizing mental health in the budget he signed Wednesday.

Included in the $101.5 billion state budget is $2.5 billion for mental health and substance abuse prevention. The Governor lauded it as “one of the best budgets the state’s ever done” for behavioral health.

“Gov. DeSantis upheld the Legislature’s health care recommendations, keeping funding for crucial services a priority for all Floridians,” said Florida Behavioral Health Association President and CEO Melanie Brown-Woofter. “The important dollars that are included in the state budget allow for statewide mental health and substance use disorder treatment providers to continue to save lives and create stronger communities.”

DeSantis approved $137.6 million in funds for community-based services for Floridians with behavioral health needs. The budget, which will kick in on July 1, also expands the state’s 211 crisis network and provides additional telehealth services for children in rural counties.

The Florida Association of Managing Entities, an organization of nonprofits that manage public funds for substance abuse and mental health, also thanked the Governor for prioritizing behavioral health services.

“By including more than $137.6 million for behavioral health needs and $3 million for the 2-1-1 helpline, Governor DeSantis has taken an important step in ensuring all Floridians have access to the behavioral health care they need to live healthy and productive lives,” FAME CEO Natalie Kelly said.

FBHA also thanked the Governor for promoting First Lady Casey DeSantis‘ mental health agenda throughout his tenure. The Governor, too, gave a nod to the First Lady before signing the budget.

“My wife, the First Lady, has done a lot to bring awareness and for advocating for folks, particularly school-aged children, who may be struggling along these lines and try to make sure that the money that’s out there is actually going to the right places,” he said.

The budget includes a $20 million increase for school mental health initiatives for a total of $120 million. There is also $5.5 million to continue the Youth Mental Health Awareness and Assistance Training in schools.

Despite vetoing $1 billion from the state’s budget for the current fiscal year at the height of pandemic fears, the Governor largely left the mental health budget untouched.

An FBHA report from February found that its members’ crisis and emergency hotlines have increased traffic 65% since the pandemic began. Drug overdose rates in central Florida rose 70% during the first three months of the pandemic.

Part of supporting mental health, in the Governor’s view, was quickly opening the state following the initial brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. Floridians’ mental health would have been hit harder had they been locked down for a year and the state lost more jobs.

“Quite frankly, the best mental health initiative we did was just have the state open and let people live normal lives because when you try to isolate people for months on end, that is not natural, it’s not normal, and it exacerbates a lot of problems that are pre-existing in society,” DeSantis said.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


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