How the Federal Government Sequestration Impacts Mental Health Services

Care for Your Mind

Due to Congress’ stalemate in reducing the federal deficit, automatic, across-the-board spending cuts, known as sequestration, are taking effect on federal government programs. Medicaid and Social Security are practically the only programs unaffected, and the Congress has begun scrambling to address the high-profile, high-impact cuts as they arise, such as providing relief for air traffic control. With spending being cut on a broad scale, what will sequestration mean in practical terms for people dealing with mental health conditions? Will the cuts affect you?

(For background information, read What is Sequestration? at

The overriding concern about sequestration is that it has absolutely no precision: sequestration was designed to cut wide swaths through government, sparing no agency or program. This means that spending in every federal agency—from the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the FBI—and on every federal program—like the national parks, disaster relief, food safety inspection, and airport security—will be cut by 5 percent this year, and even more each year for the next nine years. And because of the delay in implementing sequestration, the cuts are more severe as reductions that would have been spread over 12 months are now crammed into 7 months instead.

(This interactive chart from the Washington Post provides estimates of the state-by-state impact of sequestration by category, based on White House estimates. Click on “Public Health” for the most relevant information.)

How does sequestration affect mental health services?

Sequestration will have—and in some communities is already having—a significant impact on people’s ability to access mental health services and programs. And when we speak of programs, we’re talking about children’s mental health services, suicide prevention programs, homeless outreach programs, substance use treatment programs, housing and employment assistance, health research, and virtually every type of public mental health support.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is cutting $168 million from its 2013 spending, including a reduction of $83.1 million in grants for substance abuse treatment programs. That cut will result in 102,900 fewer treatment admissions, according to White House estimates.

Other mental health concerns include:

  • reduction or elimination of services to more than 373,000 adults and children with serious mental illness, due to cuts to Mental Health block grants
  • reduction of services available to approximately 8,900 homeless persons with serious mental illness, due to cuts to the Projects for Assistance Transition from Homelessness (PATH) program
  • immeasurable impact on mental health research and, ultimately, public health, because studies, such as a proposed study on shortening the duration between the onset of psychosis in schizophrenia and diagnosis and treatment, will not receive funding due to cuts to National Institute of Mental Health new research grants
  • in sum, loss of mental health and support services for millions of individuals and families

(Read this Mental Health America analysis of how sequestration cuts might impact people living with mental illness.)

What will it take to end sequestration?

It’s up to Congress to end sequestration by agreeing to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion. Politics, philosophy, party, popularity, and policy all factor into these decisions. While there is no timetable for when sequestration might end, the current stalemate in Congress suggests it will be here for a while and we will be living with its effects.

What can you do?

  • Comment below to share information about cuts in mental or physical health services that have affected you or someone you know.  Include the city and state where the cuts have taken place so we can start to identify trends.
  • Tell your Senators and Congressional Representatives what you think should happen.
  • Also, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), chair of the Senate Budget Committee, is collecting stories and comments about how sequestration is impacting people. You can submit your story online at a website created by Sen. Murray.
  • Stay informed and get involved through social media. You can read what’s “trending” and join the conversation on Twitter at #sequestration.

Facebook Comments

careforyourmind moderator

From the news from Friday, June 7: ..."The White House has submitted a request for a $72.9 million supplemental appropriations bill to Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, to help curb layoffs, furloughs and cuts to programs, such as 'drug testing, substance abuse, and mental health treatment services for defendants awaiting trial and offenders released from prison.'" Read "Judiciary Hates Sequestration, Too" on 


Does this mean cuts directly attributable to the sequester come on top of other existing cuts that have been taking place at the state and county level?

careforyourmind moderator

@60Plainsdrifter Thanks for your question. The answer is yes, the across-the-board spending cuts related to the sequester are in addition to other budget reductions, regardless of whether the other budget cuts are attributable to federal, state, county, or local decisions. That's one of the reasons why sequestration is such a challenge for federally-funded programs and, for many people, a frustration, because it allows no opportunity to make funding decisions based on needs and priorities at any level. Looking forward to your continued participation! 


  1. […] situation due to a one-two punch of funding cuts by state and local governments, and a polarized Congress’ inability to agree on a budget to fund essential community-based programs that support our country’s most vulnerable […]

  2. […] which funds most mental-health services, the non-Medicaid mental-health services have taken a serious hit, including 103,000 fewer treatment admissions in […]

  3. […] (SAMHSA) claimed it alone would be cutting $168 million from its 2013 spending, including a reduction of $83.1 million in grants for substance abuse treatment […]

  4. […] (SAMHSA) claimed it alone would be cutting $168 million from its 2013 spending, including a reduction of $83.1 million in grants for substance abuse treatment […]

  5. […] claimed it alone would be cutting $168 million from its 2013 spending, including a reduction of $83.1 million in grants for substance abuse treatment […]

  6. […] claimed it alone would be cutting $168 million from its 2013 spending, including areduction of $83.1 million in grants for substance abuse treatment […]