Noem prioritizes meth epidemic, nursing home funding and mental health in first budget address

Republican Gov. Kristi Noem delivers her first budget address for Fiscal Year 2020 in South Dakota's House of Representatives, located in the state Capitol in Pierre. Sarah Mearhoff / Forum News Service.
Republican Gov. Kristi Noem delivers her first budget address for Fiscal Year 2020 in South Dakota's House of Representatives, located in the state Capitol in Pierre. Sarah Mearhoff / Forum News Service.Sarah Mearhoff / Forum News Service

PIERRE, S.D. — Republican Gov. Kristi Noem in her first budget address identified roughly $54.1 million in new spending that she plans to direct toward three priorities: addressing the methamphetamine epidemic, filling the funding gap for nursing homes and mental health care.

Noem said on Wednesday, Jan. 23, that the new dollars are available in part thanks to less utilization of state social services, like Medicaid, because income levels in the state have increased. Between these state savings and projected increased revenues, she said she has over $54 million available “to confront the issues we face in our state” without raising taxes or “needlessly growing government.”

Noem’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget, which would take effect in July, totals at $4.87 billion. By comparison, former-Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s recommend Fiscal Year 2020 budget totaled at $4.85 billion.

Echoing her State of the State and inaugural addresses, Noem said the state can tackle its methamphetamine epidemic by increasing funding for education, enforcement and treatment initiatives, overall budgeting $4.6 million in anti-methamphetamine efforts.

First, Noem proposed $1.4 million in one-time funds and $250,000 in ongoing funds be allocated toward developing a statewide anti-methamphetamine media campaign to dissuade people from trying methamphetamine in the first place. She also proposed $731,000 in ongoing funds be allocated toward in-school meth education.

Noem called for stronger enforcement of drug law, and $2.1 million in ongoing funding to go toward methamphetamine addiction treatment.

To help solve the state’s issue of underfunded nursing homes, Noem proposed increasing provider reimbursement rates on an ongoing basis, as well as funding a one-time allocation of $5 million to partner providers to identify potential alternative care options, such as at-home care.

With South Dakota’s suicide rate steadily increasing over the years, Noem listed mental health as another funding priority of the fiscal 2020 budget. Echoing Chief Justice David Gilbertson’s State of the Judiciary address, Noem recommended $139,000 in ongoing funds be allocated toward the development of a mental health court in Minnehaha County, mirroring that of Pennington County.

“I’m excited about this opportunity to have the same type of impact (as in Pennington County) by putting these individuals through mental health court and getting them facilitated into treatment rather than into the criminal justice system and possibly into prison,” Noem said in a news conference following her address.

She also recommended $351,000 in ongoing funds be allocated toward implementing mental health care coordinators in schools to help identify at-risk students and refer them to mental health services.

“We shouldn't rely just on teachers to meet the mental health demands that we see in our schools,” Noem said, adding that early referrals could help prevent students from more costly interventions down the road.

For education and tech school funding, state employee benefits and Medicaid providers, Noem recommended a 2.5 percent ongoing increase in funds based on market adjustments. She also proposed $100,000 in ongoing funds be dedicated to offering home-schooled students the Opportunity Scholarship, and nixed Daugaard’s proposal for medical insurance premiums for state employees.

In one-time funding allocations, Noem proposed $5 million be put toward grants to expand rural broadband in order to increase employment and educational opportunities in South Dakota’s rural areas. She also recommended $1.8 million be put toward a state-matching grant for Ellsworth Air Force Base, located outside of Rapid City, and approximately $1.75 million in ongoing and one-time funds go toward natural resource conservation.

When asked how she would respond to legislators’ potential hesitation to spending increases, Noem told media that she “(doesn’t) see where legislators would have concern over that,” as her budget puts 10 percent into reserves per usual and there are no proposed tax increases.

“What we did was use dollars that were not being utilized,” Noem said. “There was a savings that we are directing into other priority areas…. They should see that as being a fiscally conservative way to manage the state of South Dakota, while making sure we’re being aggressive in going after some of our biggest challenges.”