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Black youth mental health advocates in Sacramento look to cannabis tax-based funding

Nonprofits and education leaders across Sacramento are fighting to get ballot Measure L passed this November, which would increase youth mental health funding.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — An estimated $10 million in annual funding for youth development and wellness programs in Sacramento hinges on Measure L, a ballot proposal that would secure funding equivalent to 40% of the city's cannabis business tax revenues.

When city councilmembers approved the measure in July for voters to decide on the Nov. 2022 ballot, local nonprofits and youth organizations focused on mental health and wellness were on it.

"The city of Sacramento really has shown a lot of leadership around new programming, but everything kind of feels like a one off — where they'll release some funding out to the community, but it's always like, 'We can't guarantee that we'll ever have this funding again,'" PRO Youth and Families collective director Rachel Minnick told ABC10.

Having previously supported youth wellness ballot measures in the past, she said local education and nonprofit leaders turned to the Sac Kids First coalition to help launch their goal of passing Measure L.

The coalition boasts 36 Sacramento-based organizations and nonprofits, including more than 1,900 advocates and supporters.

The coalition's past effort in pushing Measure G in 2020 raised awareness of the mental health resources youth lack in Sacramento, Minnick said, but long-term sustainable funding remains scarce. Voters did not approve Measure G.

"(City officials) try to squeeze out a little bit unspent money and direct that to you— but there isn't a reliable source," she said. "So year after year, month after month, a lot of community organizations really rely and benefit on a lot of funding sources, with the City of Sacramento being one."

Funding for youth wellness, mental health in Sacramento

Nonprofits and community organizations running youth wellness programs in Sacramento typically get funding from grants and donations. Local programs include homelessness prevention, substance abuse treatment and more with the overarching goal of supporting youth mental health, Sac Kids First coordinator Monica Mares told ABC10.

However, much of the funds needed to keep operations going come from one-time grants.

For fiscal year 2022/23, the Office of Youth Development budget was cut down to $831,079, compared to the last two fiscal years where the budget sat at $1,552,594.

"We want to get a stable and consistent fund in the city established so that nonprofits as well as city agencies, city programs and services are able to get the funds that they need to run their programs," she said. "Because, of course, this one isn't limited to nonprofits. It's also city agencies as well as existing programs in the city to be funded as well."

According to the city of Sacramento Fiscal Budget for 2022/23, funds aimed at youth mental health and wellness include:

  • $9.4 million for youth, workforce training, and gang prevention
  • $6 million from the fiscal year 2020/21 midyear allocation continues to be managed by the city for children and youth services, including the City of Sacramento Youth Development Plan Funding Grant Program.
  • $831,079 for the city Office of Youth Development
  • $568,850 for mental wellness programs
  • $425,000 for districts across the city to host youth engagement and summer programs.
  • $100,000 for a Youth Engagement Pilot Program, and service program.

Local nonprofits and organizations receiving grants from the city from its 2022/23 budget include:

The city also continues to manage $10.8 million in Measure U funds received in June 2019, according to city officials, and six workers currently make up the city Office of Youth Development Division.

Two years before Measure L, Measure G was placed on the 2020 ballot for Sacramento voters to decide whether 2.5% of the city's revenue should go toward youth programs.

Under Measure G, a committee of mostly people under the age of 25 would decide how the money is spent every three years – pending city council approval. Measure G failed to pass, though.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg, former mayors, and several city council members were against the measure. Councilmembers Jay Schenirer, Eric Guerra and Allen Warren were in favor of the measure.

"Since March 2020, we've been working pretty closely with the mayor as well as other elected officials... to basically create a committee among us to form another version of a children's ballot measure which Sacramento voters will see on their ballot (this year)," said Mares.

Sac Kids First coalition champion Measure L

If passed this November, Measure L would address what local leaders say is a lack of consistent funding for youth mental health and wellness programs.

Other local leaders like City Councilmember Jeff Harris and former mayor Heather Fargo say limiting $10 million of city funds to youth-based programs would undercut their ability to close anticipated budget deficits.

In a recent ballot argument form submitted to the city, Harris and Fargo go on to say "ballot box budgeting is fiscally irresponsible," and the measure is an attempt to fund nonprofit organizations with tax dollars collected to provide essential city services.

For Improve Your Tomorrow policy and advocacy manager Andrew Avila, Measure L is about expanding access to mental health programs to Black and brown youth with consistent funding. Improve Your Tomorrow is part of the Sac Kids First coalition.

Consistent funding isn't the only problem. Overcoming the stigma of mental health treatment through education is pivotal.

It wasn't until 2020 that mental health began to hit a new level of prevalence, sparking a renewed interest in education on the subject.

PRO Youth and Families collective director Rachel Minnick described COVID as sparking an "explosion" in the mental health discourse.

"Black and brown youth and young men of color have always struggled with a myriad of mental health issues—including access to resources," Avila told ABC10. "It wasn't up until the pandemic, which exacerbated all these issues and brought them into light, where we were able to understand how bad Black and brown youth have it."

Previously working at the California State Legislature, Avila said some lawmakers see mental health issues as a response-based problem rather than one needing prevention and intervention.

Some of the ways Sac Kids First coalition members are campaigning for Measure L include knocking on doors, hosting community events and posting to social media.

The official launch date for Measure L is upon us and we can’t wait to see all of your faces! Come learn how you can be...

Posted by Sac Kids First on Wednesday, September 7, 2022

"As a coalition we've met with city council members. We let them know exactly what we were asking for and got their feedback on how this might impact the youth in their in their districts," said Sac Kids First coordinator Monica Mares. "Thankfully, we got the support of eight out of nine elected leaders."

The Sacramento Children and Youth Health and Safety Act (Measure L) is set to be one of the many measures up for a vote on the California ballot on Nov. 8.

For more information on Measure L, click here.

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