Dunleavy vetoed $2 million for special needs housing from budget bill

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks to a Heritage Foundation audience on Monday, Dec. 16, 2019.

The coronavirus has changed a lot but it hasn’t changed everything.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy signed into law on Monday the mental health budget, delivering $13 million in state and federal funds to bolster the state’s response to coronavirus, but in doing so also delivered three line-item vetoes to the underlying bill.

The vetoes affect two social safety net programs as well as the Legislature’s attempt to rein in an anti-union lawsuit.

The most significant of the three is a $2 million reduction to the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority’s request for grants for beneficiary and special needs housing, rejecting the organization’s efforts to step up funding for supportive housing for at-risk Alaskans.

“The demand for special needs housing remains critical,” explained a budget document from last fall explaining the need to step up the program. “The target population served under the Beneficiary and Special Needs Housing program consists of mental health beneficiaries and other special needs groups like severely emotionally disturbed children and the homeless.”

The document explains that the grants would go to non-profit organizations to build additional special needs housing that ranges from permanent housing for people with mental illness or developmental disabilities to transition housing for people recovering from substance abuse disorders. Here’s some examples from the document:

  • Congregate housing for people with mental illness or developmental disabilities
  • Supportive housing, including assisted living, for people with mental illness, developmental disabilities, or multiple disorders
  • Transitional housing with support services for newly recovering alcoholics and addicts
  • Permanent or transitional housing support for the homeless and AMHTA beneficiaries

The idea behind these programs is to give these groups more stable housing and support with a goal of also reducing their likelihood of committing crimes and landing in the criminal justice system. The document says the impacts will be felt to the state one way or another.

“The loss of Beneficiary and Special Needs Program funds will mean increased expenditures by the state to house people who are inappropriately housed in the Alaska Psychiatric Institute or the correctional system. The cost of providing community-based care is significantly lower than institutional care,” explains the budget document. “A recent evaluation of six supportive housing properties funded through this program showed an average daily expense of $51 a day compared to $142 in prison and over $1,100 a day in API.”

The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority made the request for the additional funding, but the request along with several other requests were not forwarded by Dunleavy to the Legislature. After hearing from the authority’s leaders, the Legislature funded the request.

Dunleavy’s veto letter doesn’t do much to justify the veto other than to say that it returns it to the historical level of $1.75 million and that “we must work together to prioritize state funded programs, and programs funded at the local level.” The governor’s administration has tightly clamped down on internal spending in recent weeks in response to the falloff in oil prices, freezing non-essential hiring, travel and purchasing.

Past recipients include the Rural Alaska Community Action Program, Catholic Social Services, Valley Residential Services in Wasilla, New Life Development in Anchorage, Tanana Chiefs Conference in Fairbanks and Kenai Peninsula Housing Initiatives.

The governor also vetoed $70,100 in state funding for grants to behavioral health treatment and recovery programs, leaving $38.6 million of state money in the program.

He also vetoed money and intent language that was intended to rein in his use of the Department of Law to pursue an anti-union lawsuit with spendy Trump-friendly D.C. attorneys. The effect of the cut also reduces the Department of Law’s Civil Division by $100,100. The division’s total budget is $18.09 million.

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