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Maryland General Assembly

Advocates rally for mental health funding guarantee

Rachel Baye
/

A crowd rallied outside the Statehouse Thursday afternoon, just before lawmakers were scheduled to consider a bill that would guarantee annual increases in mental health funding.

A coalition of behavioral health advocates estimated that 500 people held signs and chanted, urging lawmakers to consider the needs of a population they said is often ignored: those who suffer from mental health disorders.

The group pushed passage of a bill requiring the state to increase reimbursements for mental health and substance abuse services each year by at least the rate of inflation.

"For many, many years now we have underfunded these programs," said bill sponsor Sen. Guy Guzzone, a Democrat from Howard County. "If you create a mandate, it will ensure that, year after year, the governor will need to put funding in the budget based on the medical rate of inflation, to ensure that the funding is there every year, and it can help those providers actually plan for the future."

The bill comes at a time when Gov. Larry Hogan has vowed to reduce the number of funding mandates enshrined in state law.