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Senate Committee Opposes Elimination of Youth Behavioral Health Program

Sue Lincoln

Last week, the Louisiana Department of Health announced a behavioral health program for youth would be eliminated effective April 1st.

Senator Fred Mills called Wednesday’s Health and Welfare committee meeting to discuss that action. 

“As the elimination of this program has a direct impact on over 40,000 children and there are only two weeks between publication of the emergency rule and elimination of the program," explained Chairman Mills (R-New Iberia), "this committee has deemed it prudent to exercise our oversight authority.”

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne said this program is on the chopping block as a result of the special session debate over whether the rainy day fund or attrition savings would fill the budget shortfall.

“A combination of not having that rainy day money, not being able to fully realize cuts from the attrition language puts us in the position we’re in today,” he said.

Legislators directed the Administration to find $12 million in attrition savings, money from unfilled jobs. Dardenne says they haven’t found that much.

Under Secretary Jeff Reynolds explained the Department of Health has to cut $10.3 million from their budget between now and June 30th. And cutting behavioral health is one very few options to do that.  The elimination of the Psychosocial Rehabilitation Services for Youth would generate $2.2 million in savings for the state general fund.

While the Legislature did ultimately favor cuts over using all the rainy day fund available, Senator Jay Luneau (D-Alexandrai) says a cut like this one wasn’t the intention.

“I don’t think that any of us envisioned that we’d eliminate a program that directly affects the most vulnerable of our citizens, our children, said Luneau.

Without objection, the committee rejected the elimination of the program, meaning the Department of Health will have to realize the savings elsewhere.