Auditor Says California Not Watching Mental Health Funds

Nearly a decade after California voters approved a multibillion-dollar tax increase to improve mental health services, the state has failed to provide proper oversight of county programs funded by the measure, a state audit concluded. Critics say many severely ill people aren't getting help. State Auditor Elaine Howle looked at the last six years, during which almost $7.4 billion from the Mental Health Services Act was directed to counties for mental health programs.
August 16, 2013

State agencies have not properly overseen how California counties are spending billions of dollars on mental health care programs generated by Proposition 63, according to a state audit.

The 2004 ballot initiative, written by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, created the Mental Health Services Act. It levies a 1 percent tax on people who make more than $1 million, to be spent by counties on mental health services. It also created an oversight commission to monitor the funds.

But that commission and associated state agencies have not adequately monitored the county programs that receive Proposition 63 funds, says the review by state auditor Elaine Howle.

"Because of the minimal oversight (the Department of) Mental Health and the Accountability Commission provided in the past, the State has little current assurance that the funds directed to counties - almost $7.4 billion from fiscal years 2006-07 through 2011-12 - have been used effectively and appropriately," Howle wrote in a letter accompanying her audit.

The programs have been dogged by complaints for years. Media reports have cited spending on yoga, gardening and public relations efforts, and critics have complained that the overall effort doesn't address the needs of many of the most seriously mentally ill. The state audit does not address those complaints, instead focusing on the dynamic between the state and county governments.


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