Eight years after voters approved billions of dollars in new funding for mental health by passing Proposition 63, the state commission charged with making sure the money was properly spent finally adopted an evaluation plan in March.
Last week, the California State Auditor said that might have been a bit too long a delay in tracking the effects of the 2004 Mental Health Services Act and the $7.4 billion collected through its 1% tax on incomes over $1 million.
The report by State Auditor Elaine Howle said California’s Department of Mental Health and the Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission provided “little oversight” of the implementation, or effectiveness, of 1,500 programs funded by the tax and run by counties. The state also failed to give the counties explicit direction in how to measure program performance.
“Functionally, it appears Mental Health treated the agreement as simply a means of providing MHSA funding to counties,” the report said. The auditor studied four counties—Los Angeles, Sacramento, Santa Clara and San Bernardino—and found they all used different approaches to doling out the money.
The auditor took note that the range of programs, many innovative in nature, drew media attention and raised questions about whether funding yoga classes, acupuncture treatments, anti-bullying programs and the like was a good idea while more traditional mental health care was being eviscerated by a decade of brutal budget cuts.
That’s why it was essential to measure the efficacy of programs in a way that could be independently checked. This is not to say the counties weren’t reviewing the quality of their programs. The auditor said they were. They just weren’t doing it using required methods that yielded trackable results.
Although the auditor felt the state failed at establishing accountability, she found the counties did comply with regulations governing program development and inclusion of various community stakeholders in the process.