The Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy has undoubtedly led to public momentum for gun control legislation, notably in President Obama’s gun control package, “Now Is the Time,” which proposes $500 million for curbing gun violence. Mayors have echoed the president’s call, stating that gun violence has long been a widespread epidemic in major cities. The shootings in Newtown, Conn., have also spurred a review of mental health policies. And the implications for grant funding are significant.
Putting More Police on the Streets
One of the president’s proposals includes putting “more cops back on the job and back on our streets.” In terms of grant dollars, this translates to increasing funding for the COPS Hiring Program to $4 billion, which is expected to help keep 15,000 police officers on streets across the country.
President Obama’s plan includes the provision of $30 million in grants to states to help schools develop emergency response plans. A cheat sheet of the other proposals, both congressional and executive, can be found here.
Mental Health Services in Schools
California representative Grace Napolitano (D-Santa Fe Springs) announced last week that she will reintroduce a Mental Health in Schools bill, which would provide grant funding for therapists and other caregivers for “on-site mental health services in schools.” The legislation calls for the authorization of $200 million for competitive grants to establish these programs.
Shared Background Check Data: The Problems
The executive department’s plan includes a proposal to improve incentives for states to share information with the background check system. The Department of Justice will invest $20 million in FY 2013 “to give states stronger incentives to make this data available,” increasing funding to $50 million for FY 2014.
Unfortunately, states do not have a good track record in years past of tapping grant money to improve background check information-sharing.
In the wake of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, Congress and President George W. Bush increased efforts to make a more robust background check system by passing the NICS Improvement Amendments Act establishing the NICS Act Record Improvement Program (NARIP), intended to spur states into submitting mental health data to the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System. But issues as varied as technological setbacks to conflicting privacy laws have hindered progress on this front. Only about half the states authorize or require reporting mental health data to NICS.
The GAO’s report on NARIP shows that in FY 2009, $125 million was allocated for grants; actual appropriations totaled $10 million. In FY 2010, $250 million was available, but only $20 million was appropriated. In FY 2011, $250 million was available, but actual appropriations were just $16.1 million. In FY 2012, $125 million was allocated for grants, but only $5 million in grants was distributed. (Add it all up and you'll find that about 7%, or $51.1 million, of the total available NARIP funding for FYs 2009-2012 ($750 million) was disbursed through grants.)
The GAO report cites that the DoJ and states reported that technological, legal, and coordination challenges hindered states’ ability to make mental health records available. For more on this topic, see these articles in Governing and Mother Jones.
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