CA bill would subsize behavioral health industry pay amid widespread worker shortage

With many California counties facing shortages of behavioral health experts, one state legislator introduced a bill this week that would see state funds boost the compensation of the local mental health workforce in hopes of improving retention.

The bipartisan legislation, Senate Bill 964, would establish a fund to provide performance-based raises, salary increases and overtime pay for the state’s behavioral health workforce. 

It would also provide:

  • Hiring or performance-based bonuses;
  • Salary augmentation;
  • Overtime pay; and
  • Hazard pay to licensed professionals working in the behavioral health sector.

The scope of the subsidies would be decided annually by legislative appropriation.

It would also create a stipend program where students in Masters of Social Work programs who specialize in behavioral health could receive a stipend of $37,000 over two years. Those eligible for the stipend would be required to complete two years of full-time employment in a public behavioral health agency, according to Wiener’s office. 

“The key to better mental health and addiction care is investing in our mental health workforce,” the bill’s author, Senator Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, said in a statement. “Mental health workers are heroes, and they have some of the hardest jobs out there. They should be paid a living wage and given opportunities for career advancement.”

The stipend is similar to the Golden State Teacher Grant, a publicly-funded program that awards up to $20,000 for education majors pursuing approved coursework on high-need subjects.

“If we allow this shortage to grow, we will continue to fail to provide people – particularly our most underserved communities – with the mental health care they so badly need,” Wiener said.

The legislation comes as 31 out of 58 California counties are experiencing a “high need” for mental health services are seeing a shortage of behavioral health workers, according to Wiener’s office. Additionally, behavioral and mental health experts told lawmakers last summer that only one-third of Californians living with mental illness get the help they need due to the ongoing shortage of mental health workers.

To help address this shortage, Wiener’s bill proposes the creation of an online job board. It would also allow clinical training and classwork to overlap, potentially shaving two years from a student’s college career before entering the workforce.

On top of this, the proposal would require a “comprehensive landscape analysis of the behavioral health workforce” to develop retention strategies.

“Our behavioral health workforce is strained and struggling,” Maggie Merritt, executive director of the Steinberg Institute, said in a statement. “We urgently need to rebuild and invigorate it with a holistic approach. A revitalized workforce that is treated fairly and represents all Californians will ensure that our most vulnerable get the help they deserve.”

This article was originally posted on CA bill would subsize behavioral health industry pay amid widespread worker shortage

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