The upcoming session of the Texas Legislature presents challenges for those who have a stake in the future of delivery of services to people who have mental illness, intellectual and developmental disabilities, or substance abuse issues. On the table are possible cuts to funding of programs that help many people in Southeast Texas.
In an effort to create dialogue among lawmakers and interested citizens, The Spindletop Center (formerly Spindletop Mental Health, Mental Retardation), The ARC of Greater Beaumont and Mental Health America of Southeast Texas will host two informational events on Dec. 12 and 13 in Beaumont.
At 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 12, “Make Your Voice Heard” will offer attendees information on how to contact their legislators regarding issues that might be important in the 83rd Texas legislative session. Speakers will include Spindletop Center staffers and Lee Johnson, deputy director, Texas Council of Community Centers. Spindletop will host the event at its South Campus in Beaumont, located on South Eighth St. at Washington.
From 8-9:30 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 13, Spindletop Center will host “Information is Power,” a discussion breakfast featuring representatives from the offices of State Sen. Tommy Williams, State Rep. Joe Deshotel, State Rep. Allan Ritter and State Rep. James White. The event will include Southeast Texans who have personal experience with the benefits of Spindletop’s intellectual and developmental disabilities services and Spindletop’s mental healthcare services. Speakers will also include Gary Hidalgo, executive director of the ARC of Greater Beaumont, and Spindletop CEO Dr. N. Charles Harris. Spindletop will host the event in the café on its North Campus at South Eighth St. at College St.
Harris said, “We simply want our legislators to understand that balancing the budget with further reductions in an already underfunded service system eventually costs the state more money.”
Counties in Texas (who provide funds to local centers like Spindletop) are aware of this fact, as the current lack of funding and the threat of more cuts have impacts on the health-care system, social services, county jail expenditures and jail crowding. At the state level, lack of available beds in psychiatric hospitals means that people often spend time in county jails awaiting treatment, thereby straining local resources.
Further, indigent people who do not have access to proper mental health care when they need it often access emergency rooms, at great expense to hospitals, and eventually, other patients and taxpayers.
People with intellectual disabilities (conditions like Down Syndrome) who do not have access to stimulating programs and services suffer reduced quality of life.
Last session, the Legislature held back on proposed large budget cuts to mental health services, but did make cuts in other related areas. Community Centers throughout Texas are bracing for more cuts as all state agencies have been required to submit proposed budgets that reduce current funding by up to 10 percent.
Hidalgo, of the Arc of Greater Beaumont (a nonprofit group dedicated to helping people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families) said, “Cuts could really impact the lives of families. Without things like recreational activities and respite services, caregiver stress can take its toll on loved ones. Imagine the challenges involved with caring for a loved one with IDD. Sometimes something as simple as a caregiver being able to take a few hours to go shopping or just to have some ‘alone time’ can be very important. Groups like Arc and Spindletop offer support and help that shouldn’t be taken away.
“When we cut services that help support the growth of people with issues like Down syndrome, everyone loses out: employers, the community, families and, most of all, the people we serve who have so much potential.”
Both Spindletop and Arc are joined in this lobbying effort by Mental Health America of SETX, which is headed by Jayne Bordelon.
“We work to educate the public about the realities of mental health and mental illness,” said Bordelon, “and one of those realities is that funding for treatment and support is vitally important.”
For more information or to RSVP for these events, call Spindletop at (409) 839-1046 or (409) 651-9280.