Temporary funding for Oklahoma mental health services - KTEN.com - Texoma news, weather and sports

Temporary funding for Oklahoma mental health services

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ARDMORE, Okla. -- We first told you about Oklahoma Senate Bill 1081-X last week, after the measure to use rainy day funds for mental health funding was approved by the State Senate.

On Tuesday, Gov. Mary Fallin signed that legislation, which means $23 million will be reassigned from the state's "rainy day" fund to help fill the mental health budget gap.

When a fee on cigarettes was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in August, mental health services was one of the state agencies facing major cuts for the next fiscal year.

But with nearly $75 million still needed, service providers say $23 million is only a temporary fix.

"I commend the legislature for making some positive decisions," said Jessica Pfau, executive director of Mental Health Services of Southern Oklahoma. "That's great... but it's not enough. It's a good first start."

State Rep. Pat Ownbey (R-District 48) said moving money from the "rainy day" fund was one of the easiest decisions lawmakers have made in some time.

"This is an emergency situation, and we need to get that $23 million to mental health," he said.

But Pfau emphasizes that a permanent fix is urgent.

"The cuts were going to be implemented on December 1st," she said. "This $23 million from the rainy day fund delays those cuts for about six weeks."

Ownbey said he has high hopes for a bill scheduled to reach the floor on Wednesday which would tax fuel, alcohol, cigarettes, and raise the gross production tax from 2 to 4 percent.

And if lawmakers finally come to an agreement, there's still hope.

"As long as we put that budget back into play between now and December 1st, a lot of these things will never happen," Ownbey said. "Hopefully none of them will when it comes to cuts."

As the clock ticks, Pfau has this message for state lawmakers: "This budget hole affects thousands of Oklahomans, regardless of whether they are in your district or not, and I urge you to vote 'yes' to bring in new revenue to help cover these expenses."

Pfau said without additional funding, mental health outpatient services could still be cut at a later date.

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