After a deadly mass shooting at a mall in Allen, Governor Greg Abbott called the root problem a mental health issue, not a gun control one.
“What Texas is doing in a big way, we’re working on addressing that anger and violence, but going to its root cause, which is addressing the mental health issues behind it,” Abbott said May 7 on Fox News Sunday.
Abbott, a Republican, also said Texas is working to get guns “out of the hands of dangerous criminals” and to increase penalties for criminals who own guns. But he identified mental health spending as the priority.
“People want a quick fix,” Abbott said. “The long-term solution here is to address the mental health issue.”
But if mental health is the root problem, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said Abbott failed.
“This is your memo @GregAbbott_TX cut $211 million in mental health funding,” Newsom tweeted on May 7.
Others on Twitter, including a Democratic expertmade similar claims.
A Newsom spokesperson pointed to news articles alleging Abbott transferred money from a state agency that offers mental health services, among other support, to a border initiative. But other reports have shown that the state has replaced those wired dollars with federal COVID-19 funds.
Abbott transferred mental health money to the Border Initiative in 2022
The Texas Department of Public Safety launched a Southwest border security initiative in March 2021 called Operation Lone Star.
Abbott and Texas lawmakers have invested more than $4 billion in the initiative, which pays staff to patrol the border and protect the interests of private landowners by apprehending migrants who trespass on their property.
Abbott said in April 2022 that Texas was earmarking about $495 million more for the deal, days before it ran out of cash.
In a letter to state departments, Abbott said the money would be transferred from six state agencies to support the border program. The transfer included approximately $210.7 million from the State Commission on Health and Human Services over two years. The state agency offers mental health services and more.
Abbott wrote that “otherwise the 2020-2021 appropriations would expire” and that the 2022 appropriations “were entirely funded from other sources”. Abbott’s letter did not explain those “other sources.” The move would not affect any function of the agency or program, he wrote.
Tiffany Young, a spokeswoman for the Commission on Health and Human Services, told PolitiFact that there have been “no cuts” to the commission’s mental health services. The commission replaced $211 million in state revenue with funding from the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, also known as CARES, federal Act.
Young cited HB 2 in 2021, a budget measure that said reductions in appropriations from the state general revenue fund depended on funding from the CARES Act.
“Mental health services have not been impacted by this method of financial exchange,” Young said.
A commission spokesperson made a similar statement to KENS-TV in May 2022 about replacing state dollars with CARES Act money.
The Washington Post reported in May 2022 that Abbott and state officials used $1 billion in COVID-19 relief funds for Operation Lone Star. The mail it found that during a state Senate committee hearing in April 2022, Sarah Hicks, Abbott’s budget adviser, acknowledged the budget transfer.
“For the agency, it was dollar for dollar,” Hicks said. “It was just a trade.”
Texas’ Democratic congressional delegation raised questions about how the state was using COVID-19 money, but The mail he said Congress has never prohibited states from such balance sheet swaps. The $2.2 trillion act included payments to most Americans, increased unemployment relief and unfunded loans for small businesses.
Hicks told House budget writers in July that federal COVID-19 money was a crucial part of the “matrix” of decisions that helped boost Operation Lone Star spending, the Dallas Morning News reported in September 2022.
“If we didn’t have federal dollars, we would have had to make different decisions,” he told the Appropriations Committee.
Under state law, Abbott had the authority to reallocate funds as needed, Rice University political science professor Mark Jones told PolitiFact.
“It’s a perfectly legitimate budget move as long as you follow Texas law, which it did,” Jones said.
Abbott was not required to repay the money he embezzled from state agencies, but he chose to repay it to avoid a net loss.
“He hasn’t cut mental health funding,” Jones said.
Abbott was on firmer ground using state money to fund Operation Lone Star than using the CARES Act to directly fund the border initiative, Jones said.
Texas lags behind on mental health spending
Texas ranked bottom of the states in mental health spending, according to Mental Health America, a nonprofit that supports people with mental illness.
The group’s annual “State of Mental Health in America” gave Texas an overall ranking of 46 in 2023. It also ranked Texas last for “access to care,” which includes access to insurance, access to care, the quality and cost of insurance, access to special education, and the availability of the mental health workforce. The group acknowledges that the report has limitations: for example, people who are homeless or in prison are not represented in the data.
Texas is one of 10 states that has not expanded Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act. Expanding Medicaid would give about 1.5 million Texans access to mental health services, according to an estimate by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
“If you’re going to criticize Abbott and the Texas Republicans, it shouldn’t be about a joint budget plan,” Jones said. “It would be for their continued opposition to expanding Medicaid, which could provide mental health care to more than 1 million people.”
After the June 2022 mass shooting at an Uvalde elementary school, state officials announced $105.5 million, largely for school safety equipment. This also included approximately $11 million for school mental health services, including a program for at-risk youth.
Newsom said Abbott “cut $211 million in mental health funding.”
In April 2022, Abbott said about $495 million would be transferred from six state agencies to support the state’s border program. The transfer included approximately $210.7 million from the State Commission on Health and Human Services over two years. Abbott’s letter said the appropriations had been “completely funded from other sources,” but he did not identify those sources.
However, some news outlets have identified those sources and found that Texas has been exchanging state money for federal COVID-19 relief dollars. That’s why it’s misleading to call what Abbott did a “cut.”
We rate this statement mostly false.