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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — Alabama’s House passed the state’s largest general fund budget at roughly $2.7 billion Tuesday.

The budget includes funding increases for several programs — notably, the Department of Mental Health.

“Over the last decade, Alabama has chronically underfunded the mental health system,” Alabama Council for Behavioral Healthcare Executive Director Holly McCorkle said.

McCorkle represents the 19 mental health centers statewide.

“Our demand right now is the highest we’ve ever seen,” she said.

McCorkle says she’s happy to see a budget that puts money toward the more than $41 million those centers provided in uncompensated care to patients last year alone.

“This helps community mental health providers pay their workforce, hire the proper individuals to deliver care in all 67 counties,” she said.

The budget also funds two new crisis centers in Tuscaloosa and Dothan.

“Someone can walk into a crisis center, law enforcement can drop someone off who’s in a mental health crisis, and so we’re very excited about having the funding for our fifth and sixth crisis center,” Alabama Department of Mental Health Commissioner Kimberly Boswell said.

Boswell says while the pandemic has been a challenging time, she’s glad to see the greater awareness and funding of mental health.

“For us, that’s really the one tiny positive that we could get out of COVID, is that it really helped us reduce stigma around mental health.”

That department would receive about $182 million in this budget. Rep. Laura Hall (D – Huntsville) says the funding is a step in the right direction.

“Action is being taken to hopefully address it. We certainly won’t solve the problem, but it certainly is a good beginning for us,” Hall said.

The Senate next needs to concur with the amended budget the House passed and the governor would need to sign it for it to become law.