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No major pay adjustment coming for mental health workers

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  • Staff Report 

The upcoming state budget in New York is set to address the struggling mental health sector, with Governor Kathy Hochul announcing a $1 billion investment into the industry. The plan includes additional psychiatric beds and increased outpatient services. However, human services sector advocates are disappointed with the budget’s investment in the workforce, which only provides a 4% cost of living adjustment (COLA) for nonprofit program workers in mental health and other human service industries. Many had been calling for an 8.5% adjustment to keep up with inflation and workforce retention.

Glenn Liebman, the leader of the Mental Health Association of New York State, expressed frustration with the final agreement, noting that the low COLA could lead to workers leaving the system for better-paying jobs in other industries. Advocates also highlighted potential disparities, as much of the mental health workforce is staffed by women of color. The COLA will affect direct care workers through other state agencies that serve vulnerable residents, such as those with disabilities or substance abuse issues.

Despite these concerns, some positive developments in the budget include a provision requiring insurance companies to reimburse school-based mental health clinics for outpatient care for children and a pilot program of “Daniel’s Law,” which aims to have mental health responders, rather than police officers, attend distress calls related to mental health or substance abuse crises.

The budget also introduces a pilot program to study maternal mental health, focusing on postpartum depression and anxiety. New York has a high maternal mortality rate, with mental health listed as the third-leading cause of pregnancy-related deaths by the state Department of Health.