Your behavioral health is worth a penny

“Deja vu all over again,” an expression many of us have heard and used. According to Psychology Today, “Déjà Vu” is a common intuitive experience that has happened to many of us. The expression is derived from the French, meaning “already seen.” When it occurs, it seems to spark our memory of a place we have already been, a person we have already seen, or an act we have already done.

An act we have already done couldn’t be more accurate at this current point in time. In 2016, the County Council voted to pass a one-tenth of 1% sales and use tax for mental illness and substance use disorders. It failed on a vote of 4 in favor and 3 against. You may have noticed that is a majority in favor of passage! Unfortunately, in Pierce County, we must have a super majority to pass an increase in taxes. We are the only county in Washington State with this provision. The failure was due to that sole word – taxes.

You may wonder why we are bringing it back for a vote…why now? In the last four years, the behavioral health crisis has only gotten worse. It touches all parts of our communities; our families, our businesses, our schools, our parks and our streets. The mental health conditions of our youth are alarming. In the four years since the measure failed, emergency room visits for children with a primary diagnosis of behavioral or mental health conditions has risen by 400% at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital! These are children from all over the County. Earlier this year I was talking to a woman who is a school administrator who said our kids are experiencing depression at an alarming rate and even seriously considering suicide, sometimes successfully. County-wide, our first responders’ calls for service are for people experiencing a mental health crisis has only increased. Opioid misuse has led to a crisis of addictions across all socio-economic communities. People with behavioral health challenges are your neighbor, your brother, sister, son, daughter, your co-worker, or your child’s classmate, the person that sits next to you at church. It could be you…

The County has been trying to address this with very limited resources. There are still areas in unincorporated Pierce County that have no access to crisis services for mental illness or substance use treatment. County residents must travel to Tacoma to get help and often have to wait weeks or months, and sometimes are turned away. When someone is in crisis, they need help immediately. The passage of this tax will result in a plan to increase intervention services in order to act early to treat behavioral health conditions. The funds collected from this tax will increase access to services throughout Pierce County. Our first responders will be able to divert adults and youth with behavioral health needs from costly interventions such as emergency rooms, hospitals, and jail. This will be developed and overseen by a committee that will ensure accountability, efficiency and productivity and will report to the community and the County Council.

About that word “tax”. One-tenth of 1% amounts to one penny out of every ten dollars. ONE PENNY! How many times do you step over a penny you see on the street? Based on sales tax from 2019, this source of revenue would have raised $13.1 million. What would it cost the people in Pierce County? On average, $19.35 per person per year or $1.61 per person per month. In Washington State, 24 counties have passed this tax. Both republican led counties and democratic led counties; large counties and smaller counties; rich counties and poor counties. All the counties this side of the mountains have passed this tax – except Pierce County. All of these counties have seen the need and stepped up to help their people.

I hope that the people in Pierce County believe that the well-being and health of their family, co-workers, children, and neighbors is worth less than $20.00 a year.

For more on the behavioral health ordinance go to www.piercecountywa.gov/one.