July 14, 2022

State Has Yet to Access Millions of Federal Dollars to Help Floridians in Crisis

State’s crisis services infrastructure will be put to the test with July 16 rollout of national 988 suicide prevention hotline

Investment in mobile response teams already made under the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act could be used as a state Medicaid match to draw down millions more in federal funding

ORLANDO, Fla. - In advance of this weekend’s rollout of a national 988 suicide prevention hotline, 36 organizations from across the state have signed on to a letter urging Gov. Ron DeSantis and state policymakers to take action and draw down millions in additional federal dollars to help ensure a more robust behavioral health care infrastructure.  

Signatories include Florida Policy Institute (FPI), Disability Rights Florida, United Way of Florida, Florida Association of School Psychologists, Hillsborough County Public Schools, Hillsborough County Clerk of Court and Comptroller Cindy Stuart, and Hillsborough County Public Defender Julie Holt.

Specifically, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), enacted on March 11, 2021, establishes a new option for states to cover mobile response team services (MRTs) through their Medicaid programs for a five-year period beginning April 2022. It also provides an enhanced federal match, which covers 85% of the cost of these services for the first three years.  

The 988 hotline was established “to improve access to crisis services in a way that meets our country’s growing suicide and mental health related crisis care needs,” according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. As groups point out in the sign-on letter, MRTs, which provide 24/7, on-demand crisis intervention services in homes, schools, emergency departments, and other settings, are a critical piece of behavioral health crisis care. These services will be crucial as Florida callers are routed to local centers for help.

A recent FPI analysis makes the case for using ARPA funds to supplement current state and local funding for MRTs. Notably, the state's current $18.3 million annual investment in mobile response teams, which was made pursuant to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, could be used as a state Medicaid match to draw down over $100 million new federal dollars for the first three years and more than $28 million in subsequent years. Additional state matching dollars could be available through annual mental health allocations provided to local school districts.

Sadaf Knight, CEO of FPI, said: “For years Florida has been behind the curve when it comes to investing in behavioral health care to meet the needs of its growing population. The toll of the pandemic on top of the rollout of  988 will shine a light on the holes in our crisis services. These Medicaid MRT funds provide an invaluable opportunity to bolster these services for Floridians in desperate need of help.”

Peter Sleasman, executive director of Disability Rights Florida, said: “Disability Rights Florida joins Florida Policy Institute in urging the state to take advantage of federal dollars allocated in the American Rescue Plan Act to fund mobile response team services in Florida. There is a greater need for crisis intervention services through the state’s mental health system than ever before. This federal funding is vitally important to persons in the disability community with behavior disorders, mental illness, and substance use disorders who might otherwise be imprisoned, involuntarily committed, or killed if not provided access to appropriately-prepared and trained mental health professionals while in crisis.”

Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent Addison Davis said: “Hillsborough County Public Schools supports any opportunity to further fund critical mental health supports for our students. Our district's Mobile Response Team, in concert with our local health partners, has already made tremendous impacts on 1,200 students in the first year of operation. Further demonstrating the positive impact on students and families, just over 10% of the calls for service resulted in a Baker Act. It is our hope to continue to bolster these resources, offering families immediate assistance when they need it most.”

Hillsborough County Clerk of Court and Comptroller Cindy Stuart said: “As a member of the Safe and Sound Board for many years, I’ve witnessed the newly introduced MRT or Mobile Response Team in Hillsborough County Schools reduce the number of Baker Acts and divert those students to mental health treatment alternatives. It’s been a community-wide effort to get here, to see this crisis through a lens of prevention and implement lasting changes.”

Hillsborough County Public Defender Julie Holt said: “As the Public Defender for the 13th Judicial Circuit of Florida for 30 years, I am extremely aware of the unprecedented mental health crisis in our country and the local community. Mobile Response Teams (MRTs) are critical for real-time interventions when a mental crisis is occurring. Targeted treatment and healing can begin in real-time. MRTs can and do timely address trauma and reduce the ‘criminalization’ of mental illness, without compromising public safety.”

FPI is an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing state policies and budgets that improve the economic mobility and quality of life for all Floridians.


Click here to read the letter.

Complete list of signatories:

Florida Policy Institute
Allegany Franciscan Ministries
Alliance for Public Schools Foundation
American Children's Campaign
Center for Children's Rights
Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation
Children's Board of Hillsborough County
Children’s Services Council of Broward County
Community Foundation of South Lake County, Inc.
Disability Rights Florida
Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health
FL National Organization for Women
Florida Association of School Psychologists
Florida NOW Education Fund
Florida PTA
Florida Voices for Health
Forty Carrots Family Center
Gulf Coast Community Foundation
Haitian Neighborhood Center, Sant La Inc.
Hillsborough County Public Schools
iCommunity Multiservices llc
Julianne Holt, Hillsborough County Public Defender
League of Women Voters of Broward County
National Organization for Women, Jacksonville Chapter (Jax NOW)
Palm Health Foundation
Safe Children Coalition, Inc.
Dr. Harold Shinitzky, Psy.D.
Southeastern Behavioral Health
Cindy Stuart, Hillsborough County Clerk of Court and Comptroller
Suncoast Partnership To End Homelessness, Inc.
Tampa Bay Thrives
United Way of Broward County
United Way of Florida
Winter Park Health Foundation
Women's Foundation of Florida

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