Commitment to Behavioral Health in Connecticut Governor’s Spending Plan

Ned Lamont
by Dave Fidlin


A number of programs within Connecticut’s health-related agencies could be the benefactors of added cash infusions in the second year of Gov. Ned Lamont’s 2022-23 biennium budget.

Members of the Connecticut General Assembly sitting on the Joint Appropriations Committee discussed with agency heads a range of issues — from sports gambling to staffing shortages to lead abatement programs — at a Feb. 24 meeting.

Lamont, a 68-year-old Democrat, earlier this year announced a proposed amendment to the second half of the biennium budget. He wants to add 2.4% into the spending plan for fiscal year 2023, which would bring its total to $24.2 million.

Nancy Navaretta, interim commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, said Lamont’s budget adjustments will benefit the agency she oversees if they come to fruition.

“The governor’s budget demonstrates a commitment to behavioral health through significant investments, all along the continuum of care, which addresses gaps in the system that were exacerbated by the pandemic,” Navaretta said. “This budget represents a real healthy investment in behavioral health, which we have not seen in quite some time.”

Navaretta touched on some of the highlights of Lamont’s proposals for FY 2023, including the allocation of $36.5 million in federal funds via the American Rescue Plan Act for behavioral health services. She also touched on the possibility of 25 additional positions being added into the state-run substance abuse system.

State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, had asked if sports gambling was a priority within her office. It was legalized last year, and online sports betting went live in the state last fall.

“The hotline used for this has indicated that they are seeing an increase in calls, but they have not sent us the data for what those calls are,” Osten said. “I think we need time to evaluate this issue.”

Navaretta, in response, said sports gambling is a matter her office is monitoring, though she could not say, one way or the other, if there has been an uptick in addiction-related statistics.

“I think it’s too soon to tell, because sports gambling is so new, but we will definitely be monitoring those stats and follow the data as that rolls out.”

While it is not exclusive to his agency, Jordan Scheff, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Developmental Services, said staffing has been a challenge for many of the venues within his oversight, including group homes.

“There is a workforce crisis like we have not seen. But it is not just germane to DDS,” Scheff said. “We’re all fighting for the same handful of available employees. We’re engaged with our providers to try and find ways to remedy that.”

Efforts such as retention and sign-on bonuses, as well as living wage adjustments, have been implemented within the past year.

Heather Aaron, deputy commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Public Health, touched on the allocations Lamont’s budget adjustments could have on the agency.

In the next two years, $70 million in ARPA funds could assist the state DPH with ongoing lead abatement efforts.

“These are huge increases, and we are looking forward to working on these programs,” Aaron said, also referencing added funding for student loan assistance and violence prevention programs.

Lori Mathieu, a manager within the DPH, said the lead abatement program is a multi-pronged effort.

“What we’re trying to do is make sure these homes, that are harming children today, need to get fixed, and they need to be remediated,” Mathieu said. “They need to never harm a child again.”

State Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, asked for more specificity on the large-scale effort.

“I’d like to understand how you’re going to roll this out, and how people are going to be informed of this, because it’s ARPA dollars and it has a shelf life,” Walker said. “The last thing we want is for it to sit on a shelf. We need to talk about realistic timelines.”

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Dave Fidlin contributes to The Center Square.
Photo “Governor of Connecticut Ned Lamont” by The Office of Governor Ned Lamont CC BY-SA 4.0 and photo “Connecticut State Capitol” by jglazer75 CC BY 2.0.

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