Follow-Up on Universal Mental Health Screening:
Where Do We Go from Here?

September 27, 2004

Despite the fact that the Paul amendment to prohibit funding for universal mental health screening programs in the Labor/HHS/Education appropriations bill was not adopted, there is good news. Concern and outrage run deep across the country over the use of tax dollars both to screen the minds and emotions of children as young as preschool age and then potentially to treat them with drugs that the FDA is finally admitting are not effective and have dangerous side effects.
On the day the Paul amendment was introduced, the highly rated and respected Internet news service, World Net Daily carried a story about the amendment and follow-up to the vote. People from all over the country, including school psychologists and psychiatric nurses, called and emailed to express support for the Paul amendment and outrage that the federal government would even consider such a program as universal screeningEdWatch website traffic tripled that day. Fox News ran an editorial on their website the week after the amendment. Seven radio programs have interviewed Dr. Effrem since the Paul amendment was introduced, and three more are scheduled.

The public response to this is very encouraging, but still more exciting is that policy makers in Washington are now hearing your concern and anger. Some within the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are willing to discuss how these programs represent a violation of the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) and the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

Members of Congress respond

House members who voted against the Paul amendment heard from their constituents. Several of them are using the excuse that the appropriations bill did not specifically mention universal and /or mandatory mental health screening programs, and that the amendment was unnecessary.  This excuse was actually used by the Appropriations subcommittee chairman, Mr. Ralph Regula (R-OH), during floor debate on the amendment. 

Here is a sample of a letter to a constituent:

This letter and the House Committee both actually admit that the appropriations bill grants federal money to the states to support the recommendations of the New Freedom Commission (NFC). Here is what the Committee report says:

The above letter specifically references the New Freedom "recommendations" and "comprehensive State mental health plans" for universal screening, but because the actual words "universal" and "mandatory" are not used, the Congressman thinks that these concerned constituents will be put off. Apparently the following quotes from the recommendations and the New Freedom report do not mean "universal" to this member of Congress:

Even though the word "universal" is not used, speaking of screening the entire American school population of students and adults, as well as delivering mental health services to "children so they are ready for school," and screening "across the life span" sounds very universal to us. The NFC report never uses the word mandatory either, but it is clear that states would receive the federal money to implement the NFC recommendations.  The Illinois Children's Mental Health Act is a perfect example. As stated in the draft implementation plan, it is clearly based on the New Freedom Commission report:

The Illinois draft implementation plan goes on to say:

New information has come from people monitoring the Illinois mental health law that the states of Hawaii, Wisconsin, and New Jersey are poised to implement similar laws and programs in those states.

What next?

Two actions are moving forward. One is stand-alone legislation (rather than an amendment to existing legislation) that would directly oppose this Orwellian program. Another action is an attempt to remove from the final appropriations bill the $20 million for grants to states to implement the New Freedom Commission's recommendations, including universal screening and drugging with powerful and dangerous medications.  

Removing the $20 million in state grants from the final bill is feasible because the Senate is unlikely to actually pass its version. Numerous controversies and possible amendments to the bill make its passage before the November election extremely difficult. Funding for these three high profile departments, therefore, can only occur under one of two scenarios.

The first scenario is a continuing resolution which would maintain funding for all programs at current levels, not allowing funding any new programs such as the state grants to fund the New Freedom recommendations.  This scenario is desirable if Congress extends funding for most or all of next year. It is much less desirable if funding extends only through the election, after which a lame duck session would decide. Lame ducks are not so accountable to the voters.

The second scenario is passage of an omnibus bill to fund all the programs, including new ones like the New Freedom state grants. In an omnibus bill scenario, leaders in the House and Senate determine what goes into the legislation, and it cannot be amended.  Only an up or down vote is allowed.  This scenario requires convincing Congressional leaders to strip the grants to fund New Freedom recommendations out of the bill before the single House and Senate vote.

What You Can Do: