Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has dedicated much of his political career to fulfilling a broken promise in California.
During a Google+ hangout with FOX40, Steinberg explained that the state shut its mental hospitals in the 1960’s. He said the decision was well-intended, and to encourage those with serious mental illness to live in communities with “dignity and independence.” He said the state said they would pay for 90% of the costs of community care and treatment – but that promise was never fulfilled.
Steinberg’s interest in mental health programs was sparked during his time in college, where he tutored students with severe physical disabilities. “I was really moved by the flip side of disability, which is ability,” he said. “Because I saw people who didn’t even have the physical ability to turn the page of a heavy casebook, getting through the difficult law school curriculum while all of us able-bodied students were complaining and struggling.”
One of his biggest achievements has been the passage of Proposition 63, a 1% tax on Californians who make a million dollars or more each year, which has generated roughly a billion dollars annually for mental health services.
The program hasn’t gone without criticism. Some feel counties have squandered the money in preventative care. An AP report mentions Fresno county spending $315,000 on community gardens, San Francisco county spending $100 per yoga class for city workers with family members with mental illness, and Sutter County putting $93,000 into helping 40 at-risk kids through extracurricular activities.
Steinberg explained the benefit of the programs during the hangout and especially highlighted how people of Fresno recognized that the only way they’d be able to help the Hmong community in their area would be to create a place they’d feel comfortable spending time in. He said, “We have this assumption that if you just spend the money on opening up more clinics that people are going to walk in the front door.”
Viewer Michael Tucker asked Steinberg to address Calfornia’s overcrowded prisons. Steinberg pointed out that the state has reduced the prison population by almost 40,000 inmates since 2011. The prisons are still over 100% capacity and experts argue that for mental health services to be affective, capacity needs to be well below 95%. Steinberg stressed he doesn’t want to spend more money on improving jail capacity. He said, “I want to spend more money on mental health, substance abuse and keep more people out once they leave.”
Viewer Kempton Lam asked if it would be better if the cycle didn’t begin in the first place and asked if California could be more discriminatory of who they put in prison to begin with. Steinberg said he hopes he can have an impact on the cycle that lands people in prison and believes it can be done through the money Prop 63 allocates toward prevention and early intervention for those with mental illness.
Steinberg ended by saying that mental illness is an issue that affects everyone. “We readily talk about a broken arm or our physical health problem But here’s the fact, everybody knows somebody… affected by this.”
Watch the entire Google+ interview with Steinberg here.