Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT-3) was the keynote speaker for today's 19th Birmingham Health Care (BHcare) Employment Tribute. Every year BHcare honors an employer who hires individuals with significant disabilities and an employee who has received their services.
DeLauro's remarks focused on the federal budget and its impact on employment and individuals with mental health challenges. She is the senior Democrat on the subcommittee responsible for funding the Department of Health and Human Services.
The following remarks are as prepared for delivery:
"Good afternoon everyone. It is great to be here with you, on the first day of Mental Health Month.
"First, I want to thank Stephanie and everyone at the BHcare Business Advisory Council for inviting me to join you today. And thank you for your crucial support of BHcare and its Employment Program.
"For over 30 years, BHcare, along with Birmingham Group Health Services and Harbor Health Services, has been working to help those in our community affected by mental illness, domestic violence, and substance abuse.
"Their Employment Program is a key component to addressing these issues, by helping people recover from disabling situations by finding good, productive jobs once again.
"I understand the hard work and support of local businesses has helped over 500 men and women with disabilities to find work over the years. Thank you for making such a difference. As one of my heroes, Shirley Chisholm once said, "Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this Earth.' You are paying the rent!
"I also want to acknowledge and congratulate today's award recipients -- the team at McDonalds on Division Street, the Employer of the Year, which has made an outstanding effort to hire people with significant disabilities, and Julie Chase, the Employee of the Year, who has taken advantage of BHcare's services to find employment with the City of Shelton, and has been working over the past year. Congratulations!
"Finally, I want to thank all of the mental health and disability advocates here today. This is vital work you are doing. It is because of the concerted effort of dedicated professionals like you that the prejudices and misconceptions that have so long accompanied mental health have at last begun to change.
"Mental health problems are as real an illness as diabetes or cancer. In fact, they are the leading cause of disability in America. And because of the hard work you and others put in, day after day, those who suffer from mental illness no longer must be confined to the shadows of society.
"It is no longer a shameful secret -- it is something we can talk about and seek treatment for. And today, there are treatments for diseases which only a few decades ago seemed beyond the grasp of modern medicine.
"I always feel fortunate that our district has so many first rate institutions that do remarkable work in this field. Along with BHcare, other mental health leaders in our community include the Yale Child Study Center, Clifford Beers, the Connecticut Mental Health Center Foundation, the Yale-NH Psychiatric Hospital, Bridges, the Connecticut Valley Hospital, the West Haven VA, and so many others. All are working to support the mental health of families, children, veterans, and workers in our region.
"This work is particularly important in an economy like the one we have faced for the past several years, when millions of families across the country are struggling to get by, and millions of workers are feeling the stresses of unemployment and poverty.
"Right now, the national unemployment rate is unacceptably high at 7.7 percent. Poverty is at 15 percent, the highest it has been since 1993. Nearly 50 million Americans, including over 16 million children, are struggling with hunger. They are not sure where their next meal is coming from. One in nine mortgages is still delinquent or in foreclosure.
"Unfortunately, having a job does not necessarily safeguard families from these challenges. For families across the board, personal income and home values are down, while the costs of basic needs -- particularly gas prices and food prices -- are up. And according to a recent report by First Focus, one in three working families in America are not making enough to guarantee a decent living standard.
"These are families who are working every single day, and are still not bringing home enough to support their families. 40 percent of all our children -- 30 million American kids -- are in families caught in this precarious position.
"Compounding all the stresses caused by unemployment, poverty, and a declining living standard is the sense among many families that the economy is changing, and leaving many workers behind. Connecticut, for example, has always been a center for manufacturing. But despite recent improvements, we have seen a huge loss in these jobs because of trends like low labor costs overseas, the rise of China as a low wage manufacturer that has skirted global trade rules and manipulated its currency, and high energy costs at home
"All these stresses from this economy have a direct impact on the mental health of workers and families, and lead to higher incidents of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and other mental health issues.
"For example, even before the recession, women's economic security was precarious. Half of women are in jobs without retirement plans. They are one third more likely to be in sub-prime mortgages. And one third of women are living in poverty.
"And women have been suffering the effects of this faltering economy with particular force and poignancy. Even though women are over half of the public workforce, they have experienced 84 percent of the public sector job losses during the recovery. They lost most of the jobs, even as men are starting to gain them back. And they are paid 77 cents on the dollar compared to men for the same work.
"So it is no accident that women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorders, and twice as likely to experience trauma-related symptoms, as men. Low-income, urban, African-American and Hispanic women -- who make even less compared to man -- are at both the highest risk for mental illness and the least likely to receive treatment.
"We also see the impact of these economic stresses on children in low-income households. Each year more than a million children are abused or neglected. Kids who have fallen into poverty in this recession are 20 percent more likely to suffer health problems than their more fortunate peers. And, without adequate nutrition, they will see even more undue limits imposed on their full potential. We are talking about a lost generation of Americans.
"So it is all the more important that we support the mental health services that can help families at this time. Unfortunately, in many ways we are moving in the wrong direction.
"If you adjust for inflation and population growth, the budget of the Department of Health and Human Services has already been cut by over $4 billion, or 5.4 percent, since 2002. Now we have the deep automatic cuts known as the sequester that went into effect on March 1. This will mean an additional $3.7 billion in cuts at HHS.
"These sequester cuts come on top of $1.5 trillion more in cuts already agreed to as a result of the spending caps included in the Budget Control Act, passed to raise the debt ceiling in 2011. These cuts, by 2021, will cut per-capita inflation adjusted spending at HHS by over $4 billion, or another 5.4 percent compared to 2012 levels.
"In terms of support for mental health services, federal funding for mental health was cut by $115 million from fiscal year 2011 to this year, which is an 11 percent cut, in just two years.
"On top of that is the across the board cut known as sequestration -- which cut more than $22 million from the mental health block grants, $2 million from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, just over $ 9 million from substance abuse prevention, and $20 million from substance abuse treatment programs of regional and national significance. This is all coming at a time when mental health agencies are serving more people with mental illnesses.
"Today, public mental health agencies are serving nearly seven million Americans, which is an increase of 10 percent over the number served in 2008. And while the President has requested a $130 million increase for mental health services in the next fiscal year, the budget climate in DC makes this negligible increase in funding a heavy lift.
"Due to significant budget crises, cuts are happening at the state level as well -- more than $4 billion has been cut from mental health funding since 2009. More than 4,400 psychiatric hospital beds have been closed over this period. And over 40 percent of surveyed state mental health agencies have said that budget cuts forced the reduction or elimination of mental health care for individuals that did not have Medicaid or insurance coverage.
"I for one think it is unacceptable that more than 60 percent of adults and 80 percent of kids who need mental health services do not receive treatment. And these spending cuts we are making are not just bad for families; they are bad for economic growth.
"For example, along with helping us to discover new treatments for mental health disorders, biomedical research is an increasingly strong driver of job creation in our district. Every NIH research grant awarded results in seven new jobs. And every single dollar of NIH funding results in two dollars of business activity and economic impact. That is a 100 percent return on investment.
"And yet we have been cutting funding for medical research. Since 2002, the purchasing power of NIH has been cut by $1.2 billion. Now the sequester means an additional $1.5 billion stripped from NIH. That means layoffs, less research grants, and a slower pace for important scientific research.
"This is but a small sample of the negative impact of sequestration, which is also slashing other critical needs like providing educational opportunities for our children and job training for our workers. That is why we need a balanced solution to end this misguided policy, and pursue a budget that will create jobs and help families get back on their feet.
"So on the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations subcommittee on which I serve, I am continually fighting to make the critical investments that help families, create jobs, and grow the economy. That includes ensuring that mental health services and workforce development efforts are adequately funded.
"I also worked hard to make sure that the health reforms we passed in 2010 make our health care system more inclusive of those with mental health needs. For example, the Affordable Care Act requires that essential benefits plans in the Exchanges going into effect next year, as well as under Medicaid, to include mental health and substance abuse disorder services.
"It lowered the cost of psychotherapeutic drugs by expanding those eligible in the discount program of the Public Health Service Act. It includes grant programs to improve and expand our mental and behavioral health workforce.
"It authorizes funding for demonstration projects that provide coordinated care to individuals that suffer from both mental illness and a primary care condition or chronic disease. And it expands the federal mental health parity law to include the individual and small group market -- thus putting mental health on a level playing field with other health needs.
"All of this is critical. Because it is about time our system recognizes the need for more inclusive, more integrated care for both physical and mental health needs.
"And there is more we can do. Just as a bad economy results in more stress and anxiety for families, creating jobs and getting more people back to work -- as you do here at BHcare -- will help reduce rates of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. So instead of cutting so deeply into discretionary spending, I believe we should be using our budget as a vehicle for growth.
"There is no better way to defeat the deficit and get our nation back on track than growing the economy and getting people working again. If the economy were to grow one percentage point more than expected in each year over the next ten, the deficit would shrink by more than $3 trillion.
"That is the way forward to bring both American families and our economy back to good health. Thank you so much."