Did Texas Gov. Abbott cut millions from mental health care?

Gov. Greg Abbott redirected money from the commission that offered mental health services but immediately replenished the agency’s budget with federal aid.

DALLAS — Less than 24 hours after the mass shooting at the Allen Premium Outlets, Gov. Greg Abbott told Fox News that mental health care is the “long-term solution” to the nation’s recurring problem with gun violence.

Pundits and rivals quickly noted Abbott redirected money from the Texas agency that administered mental health services to fund Operation Lone Star, an expensive border mission meant to slow illegal immigration.

But it’s not accurate to call the move a “budget cut.” Texas immediately replenished the Health and Human Services Commission’s (HHSC) budget by shifting federal coronavirus aid to the agency’s coffers.

Congress allocated that money to Texas through the CARES Act to help the state recover from the pandemic.

The money swap is a common budget technique lawmakers use to maximize state tax revenue when federal dollars become available.

“This transfer will not affect any agency or program function,” Abbott wrote in a letter to other state leaders after the move.

Since federal aid comes with spending restrictions, dozens of states used the cash to cover ordinary operating expenses. The technique freed up once-obligated money for short-term investments, like Abbott’s border mission.

“Portions of the budget are moved like this all the time,” Rice University political scientist Mark P. Jones said.

Texas executed the $210 million dollar swap from HHSC a month before the mass shooting in Uvalde.

“(Texas Republicans) haven’t expanded mental health care services, but they haven’t cut them either,” Jones said. “The biggest critique of Texas republicans would be their continued opposition to expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.”

More than 1 million Texans would gain access to mental health services through Medicaid expansion. Texas is one of just ten states that have not expanded Medicaid.

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