2019 LEGISLATIVE SESSION

Funding doubts delay Iowa mental health plan for children

Some lawmakers ask if bill goes far enough to help

(File photo) The dome of the Iowa State Capitol building from the rotunda in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. Suspended across the dome is the emblem of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.). The emblem, painted on canvas and suspended on wire, was placed there as a

reminder of Iowa's efforts to preserve the Union during the Civil War. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
(File photo) The dome of the Iowa State Capitol building from the rotunda in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. Suspended across the dome is the emblem of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.). The emblem, painted on canvas and suspended on wire, was placed there as a reminder of Iowa's efforts to preserve the Union during the Civil War. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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DES MOINES — It’s not a question of if but of when Iowa will create a mental health care system specifically for children. according to legislative advocates.

House File 690 has been on the debate schedule the past two days, but not been debated. That’s not for a lack of support, according to Rep. Joel Fry, R-Osceola, but because of questions from legislators — especially over funding for the children’s system.

“We want to understand the costs and where the funding would come from before we create something that we couldn’t afford or wouldn’t be able to implement,” Fry said Wednesday. “So I’m crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s to make sure I’ve got everything in place.”

The non-partisan Legislative Services Agency estimated HF 690 would cost Iowans nearly $3.7 million in fiscal 2020 and more than $6.3 million the following year.

Medicaid would cover $423,110 and $1,312,681 in years one and two, with Iowa’s 14 Mental Health and Disability Services regions — which are partly supported by property taxes — covering the remainder.

Although children are receiving mental health services now, Fry acknowledged legislators are questioning whether the existing funding is adequate to cover what is expected to be an expansion of those services.

“We have a lot of money in state government that is going toward various pieces of children and their well-being — education, juvenile justice, the department of Human Services and Public Health,” he said. “There are a lot of different pots of money … and we’re trying to get a handle on where all that money is at, what the total is and how it is used.”

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Fry is concerned that people are losing sight of the services already being provided and the funds being spent on serving children’s mental health needs.

“I don’t ever want it to be said that we don’t have services in place for kids today,” he said. “We have providers who are doing amazing work with children.”

His goal with HF 690 is to “make sure that every child regardless of where they live has access to those similar services.”

Democrats are onboard with that, but Rep. Timi Brown-Powers, D-Waterloo, said they are not yet convinced the funding is adequate or that HF 690 would provide the services needed.

“If we’re starting a new children’s mental health system, we knew it would have some fiscal impact,” she said.

Current programming isn’t meeting children’s needs and “there are more (needs) out there than $5 million will cover,” Brown-Powers said.

Fry expects the bill to win bipartisan support. The debate will be about whether HF 690 goes far enough.

“I think I have 51 Republicans as well as all of the Democrats,” he said. “Everybody is interested in (children’s mental health) and how we can assistance youth in today’s culture.”

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Brown-Powers said she’s a “yes,” however Democrats actually are split on the current bill.

“They’re frustrated because this isn’t a robust, comprehensive bill and it doesn’t address funding,” she said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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