APA Urges Congress to Reject Spending Cuts That Would Undermine the Future Health of the Nation

Proposed FY2019 budget falls short of addressing opioid epidemic, decimates mental health workforce pipeline programs

WASHINGTON — The American Psychological Association expressed serious concerns over the fiscal year 2019 federal budget proposed by the White House and urged Congress to reject spending cuts that would undermine the future health of the nation. Despite the targeting of additional resources to combat the opioid epidemic, improve veterans’ health care and fund scientific research, the administration’s overall budget would decimate critical education, justice and behavioral health workforce programs if enacted.

“The President’s budget proposal, like the budget deal reached by Congress, includes new spending on the opioid crisis, but falls woefully short of what’s needed to combat an epidemic that’s killing tens of thousands of Americans each year, and that in 2015 alone cost the U.S. economy as much as $504 billion,” said Arthur C. Evans, Jr., PhD, chief executive officer of the APA. “When the opioid epidemic was declared a public health emergency in October, we hoped it was a first step toward ameliorating this crisis. But we cannot effectively face an emergency of this magnitude without real resources, and especially cannot do so with the deep cuts proposed in education, justice and mental health programs.” 

Specifically, the budget recommends a $688 million cut to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the primary federal agency responding to the opioid and mental health crises, including substantial cuts to the Center for Mental Health Services, the Center for Substance Use Prevention and the Center for Substance Use Treatment. The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery State Targeted Response to the Opioid Crisis Grants program was eliminated entirely.

The budget also recommends a nearly $600 million cut to the Office of Justice Programs within the Department of Justice, which supports innovative mental health research and practice in the criminal justice sphere.

“APA looks forward to working with Congress to ensure robust investments in evidence-based approaches that prioritize prevention, treatment and research to address this ongoing public health emergency,” said Evans.

The organization also expressed major concern about cuts to health professions training programs at a time of growing shortages in the behavioral health workforce. The budget would eliminate the long-standing Minority Fellowship Program that is critical to diversifying the psychology workforce, as well as the Graduate Psychology Education Program, which expands training opportunities for the next generation of psychologists to work in integrated primary care.

The proposed budget would also eliminate subsidized loans for undergraduate borrowers, which would further increase debt for students with financial need who pursue advanced degrees, and eliminate the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Such a move would deter individuals from serving the public, including mental health providers who want to serve in rural communities. 

“While calling for more investments in infrastructure, the budget represents a drastic disinvestment in our most precious national resource, our aspiring students and our future mental health workforce,” said Evans. “The budget proposal slashes education programs and puts opportunities for graduate education out of reach for students with financial need. This does not bode well for the psychology workforce when doctoral psychology students are already shouldering increasing student debt.”

The APA did applaud the proposed increase in the Department of Veterans Affairs of $468 million for mental health services, in addition to increased investments in veteran homelessness prevention and reduction, targeted health programming for women veterans, veteran-centric intramural research and suicide prevention outreach.

“This additional support should be used not only to increase purchasing of mental healthcare services from outside community providers but also to address veterans’ need for more and more timely access to high-quality care first by fully staffing and providing resources to VA medical centers and clinics,” said Evans.

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States. APA's membership includes nearly 115,700 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people's lives.