Universal Mental Health Care Ballot Measure Bumped to March

Supervisors Matt Haney and Hillary Ronen say they are postponing the measure so as to garner more support from the Department of Public Health and the Mayor's office.

A ballot measure that could create universal mental health care in San Francisco — regardless of one’s immigration or health insurance status — has been delayed until next year. On Thursday, Supervisors Matt Haney and Hillary Ronen announced they were not moving forward with their initial plan to place it on the November 2019 ballot, with the hope of garnering more support and understanding of the issues.  

“Mental Health SF will be a sweeping, transformational systems change that will finally address our mental health and substance use crisis,” Haney said in a statement. “It is critical that we take the time to get it right. We’ll be meeting weekly with the Department of Public Health, the Mayor’s Office, and mental health experts, and we’re confident that San Franciscans will overwhelmingly support this effort when it comes before them on the ballot in March.”

The ballot measure emerged after a year rife with discussions about how best to manage the mental health crises happening daily on city streets. A controversial plan to force severely mentally-ill drug users into treatment passed at the Board of Supervisors in June, after months of hearings.  

Under Haney and Ronen’s proposal, however, the conversation of how coercive we should be in our treatment of mentally-ill city residents could become a moot point. They have a bold vision of establishing a large drop-in mental health center, where people could show up for any range of reasons — from needing a prescription refilled, to connecting with resources to stay sober. 

“San Francisco’s mental health care system is fundamentally broken,” Ronen says. “Abandoning people confronting serious mental illness to wander the streets without care or medication is morally wrong and dangerous.”

The funding for such a program — and the subsequent restructuring of the city’s behavioral health systems — could come from a creative tax. The “Excessive CEO Salary Tax” would charge any S.F.-based company where the CEO makes 100 times more than the average pay of their employees 0.1 percent. It would increase to 0.2 percent for 200 times, and so on up to 0.6 percent. 

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who added his name as a sponsor of the legislation, applauded the slight delay.

“Having more time to collaborate is a positive move in the right direction,” he says. 

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