United Counseling Service held its annual legislative forum on Monday, January 26th, and invited the Bennington delegation of legislators to attend and share mental health and social human services perspectives from the statehouse. Members of the UCS staff and board of directors, along with community partners were in attendance at the event.
Legislators who attended the forum included; Senator Brian Campion (D-Bennington), Senator Richard “Dick” Sears (D-Bennington), Rep. Bill Botzow (D- Bennington-1), Rep. Rachel Fields (D- Bennington 2-1), Rep. Kiah Morris (D-Bennington 2-2), Rep. Mary Morrissey (R- Bennington 2-2), Rep. Alice Miller (D- Bennington-3), and Rep. Steven Berry (D-Bennington-4).
UCS Executive Director Ralph Provenza offered insight on the legislative session and the upcoming budget process stressing the importance of funding to provide services. “We strongly support efforts to ensure that the people who need help most in our community receive the services they require. We continue to emphasize the importance of collaboration of mental health and physical health care.”
Julie Tessler, the Executive Director of the Vermont Council of Developmental & Mental Health Services, offered a statewide perspective on the Designated Agency (DA) system of care and how it provides support to communities throughout Vermont. “It’s imperative that DA’s receive the 2.5% increase in Medicaid rates as proposed by the Governor so we will be able to hire and retain qualified staff to do the challenging work of supporting individuals and families in our communities who face mental health conditions, substance abuse disorders and developmental disabilities. Mental health is a critical component of health care and should be an integral part of health reform,” said Tessler.
The legislators offered their thoughts and engaged in a productive dialogue with the audience where topics ranged from addressing the substance abuse issues in the community to their support of local programs in Montpelier.
“We need to spend resources on the local level to help the community,” said Senator Sears. “I support funding for positive initiatives like the new addiction treatment center and sound programs like the ‘Teens for Change’ group who are doing great work with our young people.”
“More voices from this room need to be heard in Montpelier, especially those who can speak to special education and counseling needs of our school age students, said Senator Campion. “We also need to better understand those challenges that children and families are experiencing outside of the classroom which might be negatively impacting classroom performance.”