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Lawmakers fund mental health, youth programs with pandemic aid dollars


By Eric Neugeboren

The Nevada Independent

Nevada lawmakers last week assigned around $39 million in repurposed American Rescue Plan (ARP) money to various projects, putting about half of that money into mental health efforts a month after Gov. Joe Lombardo said the state should prioritize spending in that area.

State legislators approved $14.5 million in ARP funds to renovate a shuttered mental health facility in Washoe County that local officials say will be a lifeline to youth in need of mental health care. Lawmakers also voted to provide $3 million to a Carson City company to relocate its substance use and mental health treatment facility. The rest of the approved funding — around $17 million for state Boys and Girls Clubs and $5 million for housing for people with disabilities — did not directly pertain to mental health, although those projects may have mental health components.

File photo
Eric Neugeboren – Lawmakers assigned around $39 million in repurposed American Rescue Plan money to various projects last week.

After the approvals Thursday from the Interim Finance Committee (IFC), a group of lawmakers that makes state spending decisions while the Legislature is out of session, the state has $6 million left in unobligated ARP funds as it races to meet federal deadlines. President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act in 2021, which delivered Nevada $2.7 billion in flexible state aid that must be assigned by the end of this year and spent by the end of 2026.

In March, Lombardo told The Nevada Independent that mental health should be a “top priority” in allocating the remaining ARP funds (at the time, more than $40 million). A week later, legislators de-obligated funding for four health projects and state mental health personnel because those initiatives were unlikely to meet the federal deadlines, and approved allocating ARP funds for more police at Southern Nevada colleges and security cameras at two correctional facilities.

Thursday’s IFC meeting focused more on assigning more money, rather than de-obligating previously approved funding, but it included a tense discussion over the proposed deletion of $9 million in previously approved ARP funds assigned for free school meals due to “lower-than-expected projected needs,” according to meeting materials.

Legislators ultimately rejected that de-obligation request, and they instead intend to transfer those funds at a future meeting in June to a program designed to provide free school meals in the summer (which was previously supposed to tap into an emergency fund with limited money available).

“I fail to understand why [using ARP funds] wasn’t the option that was brought to this body to use dollars that we know we have to get rid of before the end of the year for money to feed children,” Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas) said.

The new projects

The Washoe County youth mental health facility that received $14.5 million last week is expected to open in June 2026.

The West Hills Behavioral Health Hospital closed in 2021 due to factors including aging infrastructure and a workforce shortage. Last August, the Washoe County Commission approved the reopening of the facility, which was previously privately run and had 92 beds. The renovated facility, which will be operated by the county, is expected to have around the same number of beds.

The county used nearly $5 million in pandemic relief funds to purchase the facility, and it is also seeking additional federal funds to cover the first two years of the facility’s operational costs.

The IFC approval Thursday will allow the county to begin renovating the dilapidated facility, whose absence has been felt in Northern Nevada, officials testified on Thursday.

Washoe County currently has no pediatric beds available for immediate mental health treatment and minimal beds for adolescents, forcing those in need to travel outside of the area or go to the emergency room.

“We have a very, very serious shortage of mental health services capacity, particularly for pediatric and juvenile mental health cases,” County Manager Eric Brown said.

The other mental health funding approved last week will also go toward a Northern Nevada facility.

Vitality Unlimited, a nonprofit that provides substance use and behavioral health care across the state, will receive $3 million to help relocate its Carson City treatment center to another nearby location. Its existing center is being shuttered because the city is moving its health employees to the center’s location. The project is expected to be completed by next April.

The center has primarily served low-income Nevadans; 63 percent of its clients are on Medicaid. In addition, 42 percent of its clients had both mental illness and substance abuse issues.

The nearly $17 million going toward Boys and Girls Clubs will be divided among 14 programs across the state, with the money mostly going toward renovations of new and existing program sites. The programs, which include mental health interventions for Nevada youth, are expected to allow for an increase of 1,000 new participants.

The final project approved by ARP funds on Thursday was $5 million for a Las Vegas housing project that will allow more than 125 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to live independently. The project is set to break ground in August and be completed in October 2026.



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