Committee on Health’s Budget Oversight Hearing: Department of Behavioral Health
Policy and Communications Manager
Education Reform Now DC
March 21, 2022
Hello, and good morning Chairperson Gray and the Committee on Health. My name is Joshua Hodge. I am the Policy and Communications Manager at Education Reform Now DC (ERN DC), a Ward 6 resident, and a member of the Strengthening Families Coalition. ERN DC is a non-profit organization that fights for a just and equitable public education system for all students in the District of Columbia. I am pleased to provide testimony at the Department of Behavioral Health’s budget oversight hearing. We are asking for the Committee on Health and the D.C. Council to increase community based organization clinicians grants to $80,000 and to fund a cost study of the school-based behavioral health (SBBH) program so that D.C. can finally right-size the cost of the program.
First, we are very grateful for the Mayor’s continued investment in the SBBH program. The Mayor proposed $3.8 million to support the SBBH program. The $3.8 million includes: $1.76 million to fund additional clinicians; $908,000 to fund 8 FTEs at DBH to support program infrastructure, data oversight, and program evaluation; $829,000 to fund high fidelity wraparound services to support 6-7 schools; and $281,000 to strengthen the SBBH program workforce pipeline. These are crucial investments, and if withheld many students would not have the support they need.
We are asking for the D.C. Committee on Health and DC Council to raise CBO clinician grant amounts from the Mayor’s proposed $70,000 to $80,000 so that CBOs are able to provide needed services in schools. Without additional funding to permanently stabilize CBO grants, it will be difficult to retain the clinician workforce we have and fill additional open positions. The District should maintain grant levels from the current fiscal year for the next three years and include increases to cover the cost of inflation. The difference in funding from the Mayor’s proposed investment in the program and what is needed is $2.4 million. The D.C. Committee on Health and D.C. Council should also fund a cost study, which is estimated to be $300,000 so that D.C. can finally right-size the cost of the SBBH program.
Behavioral health services have always been crucial for a student’s success in school, but these needs have been exacerbated by the pandemic. These needs will continue to persist as we are not headed towards a post-pandemic world, but instead, we are in a new covid era of life that directly affects schools and students well-being. Since the start of the pandemic, emergency department visits for children with mental health emergencies have risen sharply. Tens of thousands of children have experienced a pandemic-related death of a primary caregiver across the world, country, and right here in D.C. In October of 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association declared a national state of emergency in child and adolescent mental health.
As we know, the pandemic has not impacted communities the same, with more Black, Brown, and low-income households being affected more severely by the effects of Covid-19, ways include; financial losses, housing instabilities, long-term health repercussions, physical sickness, loss of family members, and decreased overall mental health. Increased access to behavioral health services is proven to be transformative for students and their families and can boost the long-term overall health and productivity of communities as evidenced by school outcomes, overall health and well-being, and reduced crime rates. Behavioral health is foundational to the District’s long-term recovery from the impacts of the pandemic. Currently, only about 80% of public schools here in D.C. have a mental health services provider on-site and this needs to change to 100%, as all students have the right to, and need access to a mental health provider. 
In closing, District leaders have an opportunity to deepen investments and focus on students to continue to address some of the most severe issues facing our youth. Presenting the chance to create a behavioral healthcare system that is more just and equitable for DC children, students, and families. Thank you for allowing me to testify today.Testimony