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Debate over distributing $5.3 million federal grant for mental health services

DES MOINES — A proposed change in how a federal block grant for mental health services is distributed in Iowa drew support and objections Monday during a public hearing at the Iowa capitol.

About $5 million has been sent this year to 25 community mental health centers. The new plan would use that federal money to help set up mental health services for children in Iowa. Cynthia Steidl Bishop is CEO of a non-profit that’s currently getting more than $400,000 from the grant to help provide mental health services in 11 counties.

“First I want to say that I fully support creating a children’s mental health system,” Steidl Bishop said. “What I don’t support is taking money from one mental health system to fund another mental health system.”

Andrew Allen, CEO of Youth Shelter Services — a member of the state board created to develop a children’s mental health system in Iowa, said while he’d like to be discussing “new” funding, he supports the funding shift.

“Too often kids get smaller versions of what was created for adults. Kids are not simply short adults,” Allen said. “Kids are distinctly different and need specialty programs and benefit from specialty providers focused on them.”

Allen said the money should help create a separate system for children’s mental health needs.

“I’m frustrated that oftentimes the prerequisite to get funding for kids is to serve adults,” Allen said. “It’s backwards.”

Liz Cox, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Iowa, said improving the children’s mental health system is critical to Iowa’s well-being, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of the 25 community mental health centers.

“These agencies are the only resources in many of our counties in our state, especially rural counties, and those communities rely heavily on their services to get the funding they need,” Cox said. “And not only do they need to preserve their funding, they need additional funding so they can expand their services to children.”

The proposal is included in a larger bill that spells out how several federal block grants are to be distributed in Iowa. The bill will be considered by a House subcommittee today.


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