Northam unveils $485 million ‘down payment’ on behavioral health

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam laid out a nearly $500 million plan to strengthen the state’s mental health and substance-abuse treatment services.

Northam spoke in Arlington Wednesday and announced the $485 million commitment to the state’s behavioral health system. He called the money a “down payment.”

If approved by lawmakers, the plan would use a combination of federal and state funds to strengthen the state’s mental health and substance-abuse treatment services.

“The pandemic has led to increases in depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, and other mental health issues in Virginia and across the country, which has added to the strain on our behavioral health system and the valued people who work within it,” Northam said. “This funding package is a down payment that will significantly increase support … ”

Included in Northam’s proposal is nearly $200 million for staffing at state behavioral health facilities, which have long faced a staff crisis.

“Virginia’s mental health hospitals have faced high census levels for a number of years, and the pandemic made the situation even more difficult,” Northam said.

Additionally, Northam aims for the funding to boost crisis services and provide more support for substance abuse treatment and prevention efforts.

The governor’s announcement came ahead of a special session of the Democrat-controlled General Assembly that starts Monday in Richmond.

Lawmakers will be allocating Virginia’s approximately $4.3 billion share of aid from the American Rescue Plan.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

John Aaron

John Aaron is a news anchor and reporter for WTOP. After starting his professional broadcast career as an anchor and reporter for WGET and WGTY in Gettysburg, PA, he went on to spend several years in the world of sports media, working for Comcast SportsNet, MLB Network Radio, and WTOP sports.

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