ERN-DC Testimony on the Department of Behavioral Health


June 4, 2021

Jessica Giles

State Director

Education Reform Now DC 

2021 DC Council’s Committee on Health budget oversight hearing:

Department of Behavioral Health 

Good morning Chairperson Gray, staff, and the DC Council’s Committee on Health! Thank you for holding this budget oversight hearing. My name is Jess Giles. I am a Ward 7 resident and the State Director of Education Reform Now DC (ERN DC). ERN DC is a non-profit organization that fights to ensure our public education system in the District justly and equitably serves all students. ERN DC is a member of the Strengthening Families Through Behavioral Health Coalition – a coalition committed to ensuring that DC children, youth, and families have access to a fully integrated behavioral health care system.

Why are behavioral health services so important right now?

Our low-income communities and communities of color are experiencing concurrent crises in health, economic, and educational outcomes in Washington, DC. Black residents make up more than 80 percent of coronavirus cases reported in the District in recent days. Gun violence and homicides remain high. The reduction in workforce opportunities creates housing instability and food insecurity. And many students are learning from home, which reduces quality time with their friends and educators, and adds stress to already burdened families. For these reasons and more, we remain deeply concerned about how our students of color and low-income families are coping and managing these adversities.

What is in the Mayor’s Proposed FY2022 budget and fiscal plan?

We are grateful to Mayor Bowser for investing a total of $8 million for school-based mental health services. This investment demonstrates the Mayor’s commitment to helping students get the mental and emotional support many of them will need this year. However, only $5.8 million of this funding is dedicated to cohort four expansion in the remaining 83 public and public charter schools. This funding amount is insufficient.

Mayor’s proposed FY2022 budget and fiscal plan

How much funding is still needed for the expansion of school-based mental health (SBMH)?

We urge the DC Council to invest an additional $841,000 to ensure full school-based mental health program expansion in cohort four. This funding amount would allow at least one full-time behavioral health clinician on-site at each school with the ability to provide services at all three tiers of service delivery. Additionally, we believe $4 million is needed to restore funding for Community Based Behavioral Health Services. As a reminder, the DC Council partially restored cuts to CBO services last fiscal year, which we are thankful for, but this gap still remains. These $4 million in budget cuts resulted in a $9 million reduction in spending because of the federal reimbursement dollars DC forfeited. CBOs are critical partners in providing school-based mental health supports and behavioral health services to Medicaid-eligible residents and other low-income residents.

Good behavioral health is fundamental for DC students and families’ lives, especially now; fully funding behavioral health services is critical for a just and equitable recovery for all students. Thank you for allowing me to testify. I am pleased to answer any question you may have.