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Senate Finance chair confirms behavioral health budget


AUSTIN The Texas Health and Human Services Commission will have some $6.7 billion to fund the state’s behavioral health services efforts during the 2016-17 fiscal biennium.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson, at a March 30 meeting of the committee, confirmed the $6.7 billion, using figures provided by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and the 10-member Legislative Budget Board. In the 2014-15 state budget the amount for behavioral health funding was an estimated $6.2 billion.

One of the legislative interim charges assigned to the committee by the lieutenant governor is to monitor the state’s progress in coordinating behavioral health services and expenditures across state government.

“We have serious challenges to address, but I want to make sure we have a true understanding of our commitment to mental health by knowing not only how much we are spending but also how we are spending the funds,” Nelson said.

The budget includes a rider by Nelson coordinating the delivery of care among 18 state agencies.

Several members of the committee mentioned a shortage of “forensic beds” for patients assessed with mental illness, especially in Dallas and Harris counties, the state’s highest-population counties. More forensic beds, they said, would help relieve the strain on jails, where people in need of behavioral health services may be placed when county facilities lack capacity for such purposes.

Grants aid communities

On April 1, the governor’s office announced the awarding of a second round of more than $15 million from the Texas Military Preparedness Commission’s Defense Economic Adjustment Assistance Grant program.

Under Gov. Greg Abbott’s leadership, the Texas Legislature in 2015 allocated some $30 million to the program to assist communities that may be negatively impacted by a future congressionally mandated Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round.

Named to receive funding in the second round of disbursements are:

¢City of Killeen, Fort Hood, $3.47 million

¢Bexar County, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, $4.71 million

¢Tom Green County, Goodfellow Air Force Base, $2.04 million

¢City of El Paso, Fort Bliss, $2 million

¢City of Del Rio, Laughlin Air Force Base, $3.3 million.

In December 2015, Governor Abbott awarded the first round of disbursements, sending more than $15 million to the Alamo Area Council of Governments, the city of Houston, Val Verde County, and the city of Wichita Falls.

The Texas Military Preparedness Commiss-ion is part of the governor’s office and advises the governor and the Legislature on ways to strengthen the position of Texas military installations in preparation for a potential BRAC and other defense-related issues. The commission’s 13 members serve six-year staggered terms. Typically, each member represents an installation in his or her community.

Employment figures improve

The Texas Workforce Commission on March 25 reported that Texas added jobs for the 11th consecutive month in February, with a gain of 2,100 non-farm jobs.

Commission Chair Andres Alcantar said that over the past year Texas gained 170,900 jobs.

Also, Texas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 4.4 percent in February, down from 4.5 percent in January, and remained below the national average of 4.9 percent.

“Private employers have expanded their payrolls by 142,800 jobs in Texas over the past year,” said Ruth R. Hughs, the workforce commissioner who represents employers. “We are pleased to see that trend continue because it reflects the strength and resiliency of our state’s economy.”

Initiative targets hogs

The Texas Department of Agriculture on March 22 announced the 2016 Coordinated Hog Out Management Program (CHOMP), running for the entire month of May.

Through CHOMP, counties may apply for assistance grants to continue local abatement activities after the program ends. The effort is intended to reduce the feral hog population. Feral hogs cause an estimated $52 million in agricultural damage each year. Texas is home to 2.6 million feral hogs, the largest feral hog population in the United States.

“Feral hogs are both an urban and rural problem, and there is no single solution that will solve it statewide,” Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said. “Through this partnership, local officials will have the flexibility to implement feral hog abatement efforts that work best in their areas.”

Ed Sterling is the director of member services for the Texas Press Association in Austin.... Contact him at 512-477-6755 or

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