ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Advocates for those with mental health and substance abuse disorders are calling on Governor Kathy Hochul to provide immediate funding in the Executive Budget for their care systems. They say their existing industry crisis has grown worse due to the pandemic.

Behavioral Health Advocates (BHA) held a zoom rally Tuesday with speakers including Senator Pete Harckham and Amy Dorin, President of Coalition for Behavioral Health.

They called on Governor Hochul to include a 5.4% Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) and $500 million investment for workforce, service, and support in her SFY 2022-23 Executive Budget proposal.

“The pandemic also highlighted and exacerbated what you’ve known all along: the disinvestment in the behavioral health sector,” Senator Harckham said to others on the call. “For the last ten years of flat budgets, of cuts, of claw backs, of withholds during the pandemic, we are at a tipping point of financial insolvency.”

Kim Kaiser from Families Together, a group that represents people with children who have behavioral challenges, said the mental health system was already facing issues. Kaiser has seen first hand how the addition of a pandemic has made life that much harder for those who need services.

“My experience has been talking to several families who are sitting on waitlists for an exorbitant amount of time, when they have children who are going in and out of emergency rooms because of crisis, because of suicidality, overdoses,” she explained, “all manner of behavioral health issues and not being able to get the services that they need.”

Kaiser said the funding she and other advocates want Governor Hochul to include in the budget would address a worker burnout problem that is plaguing the behavioral health industry.

“Underpaid individuals who have to worry about their own bills, who have their own food insecurity, and who may also be struggling with their own behavioral health issues, need the support of employers to move forward in this work,” said Kaiser.