The local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness is seeking new funding sources after being informed last month of a budget cut from the Missouri Department of Mental Health.
Stephanie Appleby, executive director of NAMI Southwest Missouri Inc., said its contract with the department was not renewed "because of budget uncertainties due to COVID-19." That amounts to $35,000 from the state.
“We had no idea it was happening,” she said of the June 22 letter from DMH. “We literally found out about a week and a half before they were going to cut services.”
NAMI's fiscal 2021 budget is being prepared now, Appleby said, declining to estimate its total. If the DMH cut had been in fiscal 2020, it would have amounted to over 20% of the local NAMI chapter’s $160,000 budget.
Grants are a short-term fix, she said, but they’re an option the organization will pursue for this year’s budget.
“What I’m hoping is that if we can apply for a grant that will keep us the same until next year when the governor looks at the budget,” Appleby said. “Then hopefully, we will be able to recoup that money back or start with a new contract and DMH sustains us like they did before.”
Gov. Mike Parson on June 30 approved a $35.3 billion fiscal 2021 state budget, with an additional $10 billion in general revenue, according to a news release. However, it also contains $448 million in spending restrictions, due to a revenue shortfall attributed to the coronavirus pandemic.
Some of the state's restrictions impact another Springfield nonprofit, The Arc of the Ozarks, said its president and CEO Mike Powers.
“We’re basically going to stay flat except for a $7.8 million restriction on caseload growth,” he said of the organization’s $57 million fiscal 2021 budget. “We get no increases and no cost-of-living adjustment.”
The restriction means money is withheld for people who have applied for services from DMH and are put on a waiting list, Powers said. He feared budget cuts might be coming as the state was in lockdown because of the pandemic. But they didn’t materialize.
“It looks like we’ve dodged that bullet,” Powers said. “That’s the good side of the news.”
On the down side, he said staff pay would remain stagnant, continuing the challenge of maintaining employees and filling open positions. Around 40 jobs are currently open, but that’s out of a staff of roughly 1,300 working for the nonprofit in Springfield, Monett, Joplin and Kansas City.
During an Efactory-hosted June 24 panel discussion, The Arc’s Executive Vice President Tim Dygon said recruitment of direct support professionals is particularly challenging. He said DSPs are around 90% of the nonprofit’s workforce.
“The pay is not adequate. It just isn’t,” he said, noting pay rates are set by the state. “In Missouri alone, the starting wage for a direct support professional is $10.71 for full-time staff to do that service.”
Staffing also is going to be impacted by the budget cut at NAMI, Appleby said. The local chapter currently employs four.
Appleby said DMH funding supports expenses for a part-time employee, as well as a portion of rent and phone bills. Additionally, it covers stipends for volunteers of the nonprofit's Warmline, a free phone service through which people with mental health issues can talk about their experiences. The state agency will continue funding NAMI’s drop-in center inside Cox North Hospital, but she said the organization will probably have to drop a part-time position.
The local chapter already had a budget reduction for fiscal 2020, as the agency shed more than 30% of its $256,000 budget from fiscal 2019. Appleby took over as executive director in July 2019 after Debora Biggs retired. A large drop in fundraising was largely responsible for the budget dip, Appleby said.
Fundraising efforts will continue to be a challenge this year amid the pandemic, according to the nonprofit executives.
NAMI and The Arc of the Ozarks have had events impacted by COVID-19. The NAMI Walks event in May made roughly half of its $30,000 goal, while The Arc’s Buddy Bass fishing tournament, set for April, was canceled. Powers said it was projected to bring in around $12,000.
NAMI’s Neon Night Run, which brings attention to suicide prevention, is still set for Aug. 22 at Rutledge-Wilson Farm. The nonprofit is working with the Springfield-Greene County Health Department in hopes of holding the $30,000 fundraiser with social distancing in place.
“It’s a big, huge event and a 5K event and requiring people to wear masks in August and run in an event, we just don’t know what that’s going to look like,” she said.
Despite its current budgetary challenges, Appleby said NAMI is not shuttering and is committed to continue its mental health services.
“We’re going to come back stronger than ever, I really believe,” she said. “I’m looking at this as we have to be more creative to find the different sources of funding.”
Web Editor Geoff Pickle contributed.
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