Lawmaker: State funding iffy for group

State Rep. Maureen Walsh told Rising Sun Clubhouse members they shouldn't expect much in a time of cuts statewide.

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WALLA WALLA -- The state of Washington is in the hole and cannot be counted on to fund programs, including those that address the needs of people with mental illnesses.

Bake sales and collection jars set out at local merchants, however, could make a dent in what's needed, according to state Rep. Maureen Walsh.

That's the message members and guests of Rising Sun Clubhouse heard Monday when Walsh, R-College Place, made a lunchtime presentation at the organization's facility.

With budget cuts eliminating nearly $755 million from state programs -- which still results in an estimated shortfall of about $3 million -- "social services are the low-hanging fruit, easy to pick off and take away," Walsh told the group. "The community will have to rally together, which Walla Walla already does."

The legislator labels herself fiscally conservative. "I come from a family of nine, there was only so much money to go around. It's a core value, I hate to see money get wasted. You'll find me shopping at Goodwill and the Salvation Army and a good Macy's sale."

Yet Walsh sees programs that help prevent problems as being a good use of state money, she said. "But prevention is the hardest thing to sell in the Legislature. Why? Because you can't prove you prevented anything. But they are learning that prevention is far less expensive."

Even so, any such programs are unlikely to be paid for by the state in the near future, Walsh believes, even when "no one wants to say 'no,'" she said. "There's going to be a whole lot of 'nos' this year."

When asked if she could legislate money for additional services for people with dual diagnosis, such as bipolar disorder and alcoholism, the representative put the period on her point, albeit with a smile. "I can legislate all day long. Whether or not there's any money attached to that is another matter."

Some ways for the state to save money will be looked at, she assured the small crowd. For example, funding mental-health services through a middle administrative layer, like a Regional Support Network, will be thoroughly reviewed. "It may not be the best way to administer funding. Some RSNs work better than others."

But organizations have no choice but to approach their communities and churches for help, Walsh said, and getting outsiders involved can be approached in a number of ways. " I set up a booth every Saturday and sell sausage at the farmers market. Thousands visit that market every Saturday. Sponsor an open house, invite people over, network. What you do here is vitally important to the mentally ill of this community."

She encouraged the clubhouse leaders to submit grant proposals to local charitable foundations. "Tell them you need a new roof or bigger space. You're the ones that have to advocate on your own behalf."

Walsh's words were not news, said Don Nichols, Rising Sun volunteer coordinator and acting director. "She didn't say anything I didn't already know. I think members were really pleased to be talked to directly, even if what she had to say wasn't pleasant to hear."

Nichols plans to begin a series of presentation to local service clubs, starting with Rotary, he said today. "I'm asking for acknowledgement of what we do ... respect for what we are doing. Everyone in this town is impacted by mental illness, but we are the only ones doing something about it."

Approaching a group like Rotary Club, with 250 members at one time in one place, is priceless to his quest, Nichols added. "If I can talk to that many businesspeople and say 'Some of our members would really like to work -- what have you got?'"

Government dollars should never be the whole answer, Walsh believes. "When the government funds everyone, people lose touch with helping their neighbors. They lose that sense of humanity and think the government will take care of them."

When organizations do their own fundraising, more than money is usually the result, she explained Monday. "Don't negate the power of having bake sales. They bring recognition, people see it's their neighbor and they want to help."

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/fromthestorageroom.

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