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Funds for mental health are needed now

Maryland legislators have fenced off some $200 million in the state budget that cannot be spent unless the governor appropriates it for education, health care or a pay increase for state workers ("Hogan's choice," April 14).

I was encouraged that Gov. Larry Hogan has softened his tone slightly from the hard-line stance he took on the steps of the State House on the last day of the General Assembly session. A small portion of the $200 million would restore some of the damaging cuts to behavioral health services, which treat people with mental health or substance use disorders.

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Many behavioral health providers are already struggling to meet the demand for mental health care services. If funding is not restored, some providers will cut back staff or hours, forcing them to close the door on more than a million Marylanders who need behavioral health services. In addition, some $2 million to help fight the growing heroin crisis also hangs in the balance.

Some have counseled that since the next fiscal year doesn't begin until July 1, everybody should step back and take "a little time" to sort things out. But community behavioral health providers are making decisions right now on staffing levels for the coming year; they don't have more time.

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Mr. Hogan can still act on the budget, even though the legislature has adjourned. If he wants to keep the door open for the most vulnerable Marylanders, he should quickly appropriate the funds the legislature has designated for them. Those funds can't help anyone until he does.

Dan Martin, Lutherville

The writer is director of public policy for the Mental Health Association of Maryland.

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