House Passes Emergency Mental Health, Watershed Restoration Funding

DENVER, CO– The House today passed legislation to make emergency investments to improve access to behavioral health care and address damage to Colorado watersheds from wildfires.

“Colorado is facing a mental health crisis, and right now, too many people in our state can’t get the care they need,” said Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City. “We’re deploying $100 million in federal funds to shore up our behavioral  health system and help Colorado youth access critical mental health care. Colorado is going to build back stronger by doing everything we can to significantly expand access to these services for all Coloradans.”

“Access to behavioral health care saves lives,” said Rep. Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood. “Colorado has seen a 59 percent increase in fatal drug overdoses, as our communities see an alarming rise in the number of Coloradans with a mental health condition. Today, we passed legislation to direct $100 million to boost Colorado’s mental health capacity, so more people in our state can access substance abuse treatment, mental health services and the health care they need to get through the pandemic and bounce back stronger.”

SB21-137, sponsored by Representatives Dafna Michaelson Jenet and Chis Kennedy, was amended to deploy over $100 million in federal stimulus funds immediately for emergency behavioral health services. The pandemic and its accompanying economic recession has taken a toll on the mental health of Coloradans, with mental health challenges and substance use disorders taking a particularly high toll on people of color and people who live and work in frontier and rural communities. In 2020, fatal drug overdoses increased by 59 percent in Colorado. The bill passed 42-23.

As amended and to help address Colorado’s youth mental health crisis, the bill requires CDHS to develop a program to provide emergency resources to licensed providers who face barriers in providing treatment and services to youth whose behavioral health needs require them to be in a residential facility. The department is to contract with and reimburse licensed providers to deliver these services. The General Assembly appropriated $5 million to fund this program.

Among its many provisions, the bill provides: recovery-oriented services to individuals with a SUD or co-occurring substance use and mental health disorder, support for training programs for providers in rural and metro areas to develop competencies in mental health and substance abuse and grants to nonprofits to provide vouchers to individuals living in rural and frontier communities in need of behavioral health-care services. The amendments also create a Behavioral and Mental Health Cash Fund and a robust interim process to allocate federal stimulus funds for behavioral health. The Colorado Comeback Roadmap to Building Back Stronger envisions spending over half a billion on behavioral health services.

“As climate change causes more devastating wildfires in Colorado, we are seeing significant damage to our watersheds, threatening not only our drinking water, but also the water Colorado ranches, farms, residents, and our outdoor recreation industry needs to prosper,” said Rep. Cathy Kipp, D-Fort Collins. “Half the state is already in a severe drought. We must act now to preserve the resources that make our state a desirable place to live. This bill invests $30 million to restore watersheds after devastating wildfires and sustain our precious water resources for all Colorado communities and industries.”

Sponsored by Representatives Cathy Kipp and Marc Catlin, SB21-240, transfers $30 million to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for the Watershed Restoration and Flood Mitigation Grant Program to help watersheds recover from the impacts of wildfire. The bill also sets aside funds to conduct a statewide watershed analysis that investigates the susceptibility of life, safety, infrastructure, and water supplies to wildfire impacts. The bill passed 60-5.

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