FILE - Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam gestures during a news conference Wednesday, April 8, 2020, at the Capitol in Richmond, Va. 

(The Center Square) – Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam proposed the state use $485 million in federal and state funds for investments in mental and behavioral health, his office announced Wednesday.

The federal funds were provided through the American Rescue Plan and state funds would be included in the next budget. The plan would provide money to mental health hospitals and community-based services and would also increase funding for substance abuse treatment and prevention programs.

“Every Virginian should have access to the behavioral health care and treatment they need, either in their home communities or in a state-operated facility,” Northam said in a statement.

“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 for our state hospitals, community-based providers, and substance abuse prevention and treatment programs so they can best help those who rely on their services.”

More than 40% of the funding would fund mental health hospitals. Nearly $200 million would go to the hospitals to increase staffing at health facilities, which includes $45 million to continue current staff bonuses and another $154 million in the next two-year budget for salary adjustments. The money for continued bonuses will be considered by lawmakers next week and the money for salary adjustments will be considered next year.

About $150 million would be designed to increase access for community-based services, which includes crisis services, child and family support services and fund dispatcher training for the Marcus Alert program, which ensures behavioral health experts are involved when responding to a person in crisis.

More than $100 million would be allocated for opioid and substance abuse treatment services to support community-based prevention, peer counseling and harm reduction services. Another $5 million would be used to provide permanent supportive housing in Northern Virginia to address bed shortages.

“COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on both the mental and physical health of Virginians,” Secretary of Health and Human Resources Daniel Carey said in a statement. “These investments will mean Virginians will receive the care they need in the communities where they live.”

Lawmakers are scheduled to meet next week to vote on Northam’s proposals for federal funding allocations. House Democrats will not consider committee amendments on the proposals and are trying to push them through quickly. The Center Square could not confirm whether committee amendments will be considered in the Senate.

Staff Reporter

Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and West Virginia for The Center Square. He previously worked for the Cause of Action Institute and has been published in Business Insider, USA TODAY College, National Review Online and the Washington Free Beacon.