WINTER HAVEN – Florida’s proposed budget, which is scheduled for a vote on Monday, includes an unprecedented $101 million in recurring annual funds for community mental health and substance-abuse services.
Lawmakers included the allotment in the Health and Human Services budget.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd has been a longtime proponent of helping the mentally ill so his deputies don’t have to encounter the untreated and so the Sheriff’s Office doesn’t have to treat them at the county jail – currently the largest mental health facility in Polk County. He applauded the legislature’s decision to include increased funding.
“I certainly welcome the state and legislature to being sensitive to the communities needing additional resources toward mental health services,” Judd said. “One of the first things we must do is break down the silos between mental health community providers, schools and local police agencies to make sure we get appropriate services to those who are significantly mentally ill. I certainly hope the proposed legislation survives the budget process.”
Judd added that he has asked Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, to ensure the money goes directly to fund psychiatric or counseling services, along with medication, for those who need it.
“I left word with Kelli, I hope they put language in there that that $100 million has to go directly to services of those who need it and doesn’t get caught up in the bureaucracy,” Judd said.
An advocacy group that lobbies on behalf of seven of the state’s largest mental health entities applauded the legislature’s move, saying it will change Floridians’ lives for the better.