Community News
Most NAMI Chapters Dodge State Budget Ax
Psychiatric News
Volume 38 Number 15 page 22-22

In late June, three of the four employees of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in Alaska "packed it in," as the saying goes. The reason? NAMI Alaska—which was dependent almost entirely on state funds for its existence—had been advised that it would lose all of its funding from the state once the state’s new fiscal year started on July 1.

"NAMI Alaska is not going to go away," Beth LaCrosse, president of NAMI Alaska, told Psychiatric News. "They may take our money, they may take our building, but they can’t stop the grass roots from continuing to speak out and provide support, education, leadership, and advocacy. We have basically an all-volunteer staff now until we can find other sources of funding."

The predicament of NAMI Alaska raises the issue of how other NAMI affiliates are faring. After all, numerous states are experiencing budget crises, with devastating effects on public mental health care.

NAMI California will probably be receiving less state money during Fiscal 2003-04 than before, Grace McAndrews, executive director of NAMI California, told Psychiatric News. And if that is the case, then NAMI California will have to do away with its Family-to-Family Education Program. The program is a 12-week course offered by family members of persons with a serious mental illness for other family members who also have a loved one with a serious mental illness. Forty-five other state chapters of NAMIs have also been offering the program (Psychiatric News, July 4).

Although NAMI Maine will not be receiving any cuts in state funds during the current fiscal year, it will be taking a 19 percent hit during Fiscal 2004-05 on top of a 20 percent reduction between Fiscal 2001 and 2003, Carol Carothers, executive director of NAMI Maine, said. This reduction, she said, means that NAMI Maine will have to lay off staff and reduce a number of programs—for instance, helping persons with mental illness and their families on a one-to-one basis, keeping a hot line/warm line open five days a week, and participating in policy making.

In contrast, "most state NAMIs did not receive a significant cut in state funding" for Fiscal 2003-04, Katrina Gay, chief of field operations for NAMI’s national office, headquartered in Arlington, Va., told Psychiatric News. For instance, NAMI Kansas got $3,500 less, which is about 5 percent less than last fiscal year. In other words, as far as state funding for state NAMIs during Fiscal 2003-04 was concerned, "it was not as devastating as we had expected," Gay acknowledged.

In fact, some state NAMIs will continue to receive about the same amount of state funds during Fiscal 2003-04 as during the last one. One example is NAMI New Jersey, Phil Lubitz, its director of advocacy programs, told Psychiatric News. Another example is NAMI Ohio, said Stacy Smith, director of operations there.

Moreover, some state NAMIs have even gotten modest increases in state funding, Gay pointed out. Thus overall, the state NAMI budget for Fiscal 2003-04 has increased, not decreased.

"Yes, it’s very interesting," Gay said, "and while I don’t know why, I can speculate. Some of the core services that NAMI provides are doing a good job. Yes, we are an advocacy organization, and that is the heart of what we do. But in addition to advocacy, we provide support and education, which are vital to the community. So I’d like to think that NAMIs are seen as a valuable asset; otherwise, they wouldn’t continue to be funded in times of budget cuts."

What makes NAMI Alaska’s situation so unusual and so critical, Gay explained, is not just that it lost all of its state funding, but that it depended almost entirely on this funding. And the same can be said about NAMI Maine. It is 98 percent dependent on the state for money, Carothers said, so that a reduction in state funding of 39 percent between Fiscal 2001 and 2005 translates into a similar reduction in its entire budget during those four years.

Thus, national NAMI encourages its state affiliates to seek funding from many sources, so that if one source dries up, it has others to fall back upon, Gay stressed. Indeed, that is what NAMI California has been doing, McAndrews pointed out. Even if it has to eliminate its Family-to-Family Education Program, "in the scheme of our budget, it’s not that much," she said.

Besides the states, Gay said, other money sources for state NAMIs include the federal government, corporations, private foundations, membership dues, and donations from individuals. Individual donations are probably the largest source of revenue.

When state NAMIs get money from the federal government, Gay explained, it often comes through a block grant from the federal Center for Mental Health Services, and when they get money from the state, it is usually in the form of a grant, but sometimes in the form of a contract. ▪

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