Oregon lawmakers will take a ‘big swing’ at mental health funding this year

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The Oregon Legislature is getting ready to pass the largest investment in the state’s mental health system in recent memory — a development that advocates and lawmakers say could lead to meaningful changes in a system that has been unable to meet demand.

In a package likely to reach at least $350 million, lawmakers are hoping to pay for a “surge” in workers available to address mental health issues at all levels, spring for new housing and outreach programs, and take a long look at how the state’s overall system should be restructured.

That investment, proponents say, will allow Oregon to begin digging out of a mental health and homelessness crisis thrown into stark relief by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s not going to all roll out smoothly or awesomely, but we’re going to get started,” said state Rep. Rob Nosse, D-Portland, who co-chairs a budget subcommittee dealing with health care. “We’ll all hopefully look back four to six years from now and go, ’2021 was the year things started to turn around.’”

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