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Lawmakers Hear Governor's Plan To Fund Substance Abuse Prevention And Recovery Programs

Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte unveils his budget proposal in a press conference at the Montana Capitol in Helena January 7, 2021. The proposal promises a $100 million decrease in state spending over the next two years.
Austin Amestoy
/
UM Legislative News Service
Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte unveils his budget proposal in a press conference at the Montana Capitol in Helena January 7, 2021. The proposal promises a $100 million decrease in state spending over the next two years.

State lawmakers got their first briefing Tuesday on Gov. Greg Gianforte’s plan to bridge gaps in Montana’s behavioral health care system.

Katie Loveland, a policy consultant from Helena, told a Legislative subcommittee looking at the state health department's budget that many Montanans who use meth start young after suffering child abuse and neglect.

“Our state currently invests no dollars — zero dollars — of our own money in youth prevention for substance use," she said. "Instead, we spend tens of thousands of dollars for every single person who ends up in the Montana Department of Corrections for methamphetamine use or other substance use.”

Loveland co-authored a 2020 report commissioned by the Montana Department of Justice that looked at methamphetamine use in Montana.

Loveland and behavioral health care providers encouraged the Health and Human Services joint subcommittee to support Gianforte’s program, which the governor is calling the Healing and Ending Addiction Through Recovery and Treatment, or HEART, fund.

Gianforte’s proposed state budget devotes $7 million in recreational marijuana tax revenue and part of a tobacco tax settlement to substance abuse programs. That money, used in conjunction with federal matching funds, would put almost $24 million into the proposed HEART fund.

That money would help fund evidence-based meth treatment, 24/7 mobile crisis response programs and a greater emphasis on community-based behavioral healthcare.

Mary Windecker is executive director of the Behavioral Health Alliance of Montana. Windecker describes Gianforte’s HEART fund as a first step in making transformative changes to Montana’s behavioral health care system.

“He is putting money into evidence-based programs, and really looking at how we can boldly and innovatively recreate the system in Montana," she said. "We will be remiss if we miss this opportunity.”

No one spoke against the proposal during the budget hearing.

Earlier this month, Montana lawmakers set a first rough outline for the state health department spending at about $1 billion less than the agency’s current budget.

Montana’s mental health and substance abuse treatment providers were weakened by state budget cuts in 2017 and 2018, when state revenue fell short of projections. Health care providers Tuesday cautioned lawmakers that more budget cuts would further jeopardize important healthcare services for Montanans.

The subcommittee took no action Tuesday.

Edward O'Brien is Montana Public Radio's Associate News Director.