Caring 4 Denver Initiative

The Caring 4 Denver initiative was a ballot measure that passed on November 6, 2018 with almost 70 percent of the vote. The initiative increases sales tax in Denver to fund mental health and addiction treatment services in the city.

The Cost of Mental Illness

The cost of depression and depressive disorders in the United States runs into the hundreds of billions of dollars per year. Attempting to calculate the potential economic cost associated with all forms of mental illness in the country would result in a figure in the trillions of dollars. In fact, 1 in 5 adults in the US have experienced an episode of mental illnesses in a given year. These affected individuals come from all walks of life, genders, races, and socio-economic statuses. Knowing this statistics should help make sense of those dollar amounts.

Mental Illness in Colorado

The state of Colorado  of course is also impacted by mental illness.

Colorado has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation. Suicide has been recognized as the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 24.

Colorado was one of the first states to allow use of medicinal and recreational marijuana. There is debate about how this legalization of use has affected addiction and mental health diagnoses in the state.

The addiction crisis in the country continues to place a significant burden on Colorado. Substance abuse treatment centers are facing budgetary concerns. The state’s largest substance abuse treatment center, the Arapahoe House in Denver, closed due to financial issues in January 2018.

Colorado ranks 25th in the nation for spending on mental health disorders. It has 12 crisis centers that are also experiencing budgetary concerns.

Part of the issue is that funding for mental health and addiction concerns often takes a backseat to funding for other issues, such as infrastructure repairs. Advocates for changing funding laws in this area stress that mental health and addiction care should be a priority for state governments. There is evidence that appropriate addiction and mental health treatment actually save states money overall.

The state needed to address its issues with mental health spending. Denver recently did so in a rather dramatic fashion.

The Caring 4 Denver Initiative

On Election Day 2018, the city of Denver passed a tax increase under the Caring 4 Denver Initiative. This tax is intended to create a stream of revenue to address issues with mental health and addiction in the community.

The Caring 4 Denver ballot initiative was passed to transfer the burden of mental illness from the jails and the police to treatment centers. Many studies have shown this is a more effective way to address addiction issues.

What Does the Initiative Do?

Here are details of the Caring 4 Denver Initiative:

  • Beginning in 2019, the sales tax in Denver, Colorado, will be raised by 0.25 percent. The sales tax rate will range from 7.65 to 8.31 percent.
  • The sales tax raise is expected to increase revenue by $45 million per year.
  • The increased revenue will be used for mental health services, including suicide prevention programs; substance abuse treatment, prevention, and recovery programs; facilities and programs for those with mental health diagnoses; and training for first responders.
  • The goal of the program is to improve long-term recovery rates, reduce the use of substances, decrease homelessness, and take the burden of dealing with mental illness away from the courts and place it in the hands of treatment providers.

House Representative Leslie Herod, a major proponent of the bill, would like to see a dedicated therapist in every Denver school, new facilities to provide detox services and substance abuse treatment to both children and adults, and innovative programs to prevent and address substance abuse.

Herod emphasizes that many Denver residents simply don’t have a chance at stability because there are no available resources for them. She aims to change that with this bill.

Is There Any Guarantee the Money Will Actually Go to Treatment and Recovery Programs?

The stipulations in the Caring 4 Denver initiative are that no more than 5 percent of the increased tax revenue can be used for administrative costs. This is an effort to ensure that the increased revenue will actually be used directly for programs to address the burden of mental illness and not be diverted to bureaucratic issues.

The revenue from the new fund should be made available to sources via a nonprofit entity. This entity is run by a board of 13 members that is comprised of the mayor of Denver, the Denver district attorney, and the president of the Denver City Council.

According to the initiative, the board is subject to transparency and accountability measures to ensure the money is spent properly.

The Impetus for Raising the Sales Tax

The organizers of the bill felt that it was a good time to propose a sales tax increase in Denver to fund the treatment of mental health disorders because:

  • Mental health in Colorado have become a very hot topic.
  • The opioid epidemic is at the top of the news cycle.
  • People are more concerned about mental health than ever before.

The initiative was passed with a 68 percent support rate, indicating that people in Denver are willing to give up a little more of their money to address issues with mental health.

Is the Initiative Successful?

At the time of this writing, it is too early to tell what positive impact the Caring 4 Denver initiative has had on the city. The increased tax under the initiative has yet to make significant headway in order to produce positive results, but people in the Denver area are optimistic.

It is the hope of many, including mental health treatment providers, that the Caring 4 Denver initiative will serve as a model for other communities to address issues with mental health, addiction, and homelessness. By directly addressing problems with mental health and providing treatment instead of incarceration, it is hoped that the burden of mental illness will decrease significantly — not just in Denver but across the entire state.

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