By Gregg T. Abella
Gov. Phil Murphy’s website states that he believes “health care is a right, not a privilege, and that he will work to ensure that all New Jerseyans have access to affordable health care.”
With respect to mental health for youth, in a press release last year the governor asserted that his administration is “striving to do all that (it) can to improve health and wellness for our students,” and that his specific legislative efforts seek to “enhance student understanding, attitudes and behaviors related to mental health to promote well-being.”
While, politically, words like these are certainly convenient to say, unfortunately, the Murphy administration’s recent actions do not square at all with his rhetoric.
As the governor is no doubt aware, his budget calls for the elimination of economic support for 91 school-based support programs statewide. One of the most prominent recipients of that assistance is the Source of Red Bank Regional High School in Little Silver, in Gov. Murphy’s home county of Monmouth.
I served on the board of the Source’s 501c3 fundraising arm, known as the Source Foundation, for a number of years and was president of the foundation for two years.
The foundation’s volunteers dedicate their time and talents because they are inspired by the Source’s extraordinarily dedicated staff.
The Source’s professionals provide compassionate in-school counseling to at-risk children who many times have nowhere else to turn.
Furthermore, the Source’s efforts are totally aligned with the governor’s stated commitment of supporting the mental health, well-being and educational success of students.
Specifically, such services include suicide prevention; individual, group and family counseling; substance abuse counseling; conflict resolution; preventative medical, dental and eye care; academic support and tutoring; and scholarship programs.
In case the governor was unaware of his administration’s actions, under the envisioned cuts, the Source would lose about $277,000 in annual state funding, the removal of which will all but shutter their operation.
Gov. Murphy must be aware that today’s youth are struggling with a variety of mental health issues at a nightmarish rate.
Against that background, it is astonishing he would choose to send a clear message that student well-being is, in reality, not a priority, despite what he has said publicly.
While these cuts may make a minute dent in the budget deficit, think of the human cost.
How sad it would be if all our government in Trenton can offer is a round of thoughts and prayers after an otherwise preventable student tragedy occurs in the absence of such programs.
It should not have to come to that. Gov. Murphy still has time to act. He has a chance to walk the walk and show that, in this state, student mental health is more than just a political talking point.
Gov. Murphy, please reverse this decision to cut funding from valuable programs like the Source.
Gregg T. Abella is a resident of Little Silver. Students from Little Silver attend Red Bank Regional High School.