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Lawmakers seek audit of mental health spending

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POSTED July 30, 2012 7:35 p.m.

SACRAMENTO  (AP) — Two lawmakers say the state needs to change how mental health funding from a 2004 ballot initiative is spent to ensure the money serves those who need it most.

An Associated Press report over the weekend found that tens of millions of dollars raised under Proposition 63 have gone to programs designed to help those who have not been diagnosed with any mental illness. The programs include yoga, art and drama classes, horseback riding and gardening.

A fifth of the initiative's revenue was earmarked for prevention, and the state Department of Mental Health later dictated that the money should go to promote wellness among people who had not entered the mental health system.

Assemblyman Dan Logue told the AP on Monday that he will call for oversight hearings and an audit, while Assemblyman Brian Nestande said he will support legislation clarifying how the money can be used. Both Republicans sit on the Assembly Health Committee.

"The resources are desperately needed," Logue, R-Linda, said. "I think what everybody's looking at is this thing needs to be tightened up with oversight. You need to analyze the programs to see, 'Are they effective?'"

Proposition 63 has brought in $7.4 billion through a 1 percent tax on income greater than $1 million a year.

Nearly $1.2 billion has gone to prevention and early intervention programs while California's overall spending on mental health services has fallen dramatically.

Logue expects to send a letter Tuesday asking Assembly Health Committee chair Bill Monning, D-Monterey, to hold an oversight hearing as soon as possible.

He may also ask the state Treasurer's Office for an independent audit.

Some mental health advocates and public health workers want the Legislature to pass a "clarifying amendment" stipulating money raised by the millionaire's tax go only to help people with mental and emotional problems.

The state doesn't track where every prevention dollar ends up, but a review of county plans shows that the state has approved funding for acupuncture, camping, nutrition classes and sweat lodges.

"If that's being done, then clearly there's not good statutory guidelines of what constitutes prevention or even care," Nestande said. "I hope there will be a hearing and clarifying amendments and legislation to clearly delineate what is mental health care and what is frivolous."

This year's state budget included several tweaks to Proposition 63 procedures, which are passed with a simple majority.

Spokesmen for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, did not return calls or emails from the Associated Press. In an interview earlier this month, Steinberg, who co-wrote Proposition 63, defended prevention programs, which also include anti-stigma campaigns, as the best way to help people before they become seriously ill.

In March, the state began a study of some of the wellness programs. For years, the only evaluations have come from county administrators.

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