Economists: Mental health, social spending will pay off

Ohio’s proposed package of expanded mental health services received near-unanimous approval from a panel of Ohio economists, according to a poll released this week. But one asked how likely it was to actually happen.

In November, DeWine renewed an earlier proposal to use $85 million in unspent federal coronavirus assistance to expand local services, conduct additional research, and further develop the mental health workforce in Ohio. DeWine also plans to ask for an unspecified additional amount when submitting the budget to the state legislature.This was reported by Cleveland Plain Dealer..

Ohio is one of the states hardest hit by the opioid epidemic, and the Ohio Health Policy Institute reported in October that the frequency of days of poor mental health among Ohioans is growing. Meanwhile, in 2018 and 2019, 25% of those surveyed said they couldn’t get mental health care when they needed it.

Of course, adequate mental health services are important to the quality of life of Ohioans. But a group of economists convened by Scioto Analysis said the improvements would also pay dividends by reducing poverty and unemployment.

Of the 22 respondents, 18 agreed that DeWine’s proposal would reduce poverty, three expressed doubt, and one disagreed.

“Access to mental health care is now much easier for the wealthy,” wrote Ashland University economist Paul Holmes in the comments section of the survey. “Enhanced access will certainly benefit people with lower incomes, as well as provide additional employment in the service sector.”

None of the economists who were unsure or disagreed on the issue commented.

When asked whether increased spending on mental health would boost employment, 19 economists agreed, one disagreed, and two were skeptical.

“Mental health … and substance abuse problems influence labor market participation,” writes Kent State economist Curtis Reynolds. “Solving them will help increase labor market participation and (presumably) employment.”

Michael Jones of the University of Cincinnati said he doesn’t have enough experience to make a judgment so he’s not sure.

“I do not have enough knowledge of the mental health care system to know if current government funding is being effectively allocated,” he wrote.

One economist, Diane Monaco of the University of Heidelberg, deviated from the strict parameters of the questions to comment on whether DeWine could get a big mental health package through a rigged Republican-dominated state legislature. Monaco noted that the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Mental Health Act in September with one Republican vote and no Ohio Republican vote.

“Gov. Mike DeWine will now unveil his new and upcoming biennial budget proposal with a host of well-intentioned mental health priorities in 2023,” Monaco wrote. “If DeWine’s New Mental Health Priorities Proposal is passed by the Republican-majority Ohio state legislature and signed into law, grants will be made to create a channel for school-based mental health professionals. In addition, it would increase the number of mental health professionals in primary and secondary schools based in areas of high need, which is of great concern to our students, families and teachers!!”

But, she added, “Do we think this will happen because of our ONGOING current legislative environment and our current Governor’s inability to operate in that environment? I think that in this Ohio legislative environment, unchanged, new mental health priorities are unlikely to emerge.”

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