Listed below are two recent articles about the Mental Health Tax Check Off Public Awareness Bill in NYS. The first one is from Mental Health Weekly and the second one is from the Rockland Journal News. 

The continued lesson learned is that the mental health community is one of great passion and when we are working in unison on an issue, we are an incredibly powerful constituency.

NYS mental health tax checkoff law the first in the nation

December 7, 2015 Mental Health Weekly

New York state advocacy efforts paid off in a big way thanks to landmark legislation signed into law November 21 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that creates a voluntary mental health public awareness tax checkoff to end discrimination against mental illness.

The law takes effect on January 1 and will be reflected on the 2016 tax forms for 2015 income taxes. The legislation represents the first tax checkoff in the country dedicated specifically to public awareness about mental illness, noted Glenn Liebman, president and CEO of the Mental Health Association in New York State (MHANYS).

“There are a few tax checkoff bills [regarding mental health] around the country but none that is specifically related to public awareness about mental illness and anti-stigma,” Liebman told MHW. “We look at this as a landmark piece of legislation.”

The legislation has been part of the agenda for MHANYS for several years and was prominent in many of the state’s legislative sessions (see MHW, June 24, 2013). “This definitely has been a lead issue for the Mental Health Association — a major priority,” said Liebman.

Liebman added, “We think this is very important. Where else do New Yorkers get to see specific information about mental health [like this] on a tax form? They’re seeing mental health awareness is as significant as all these other issues, such as breast cancer and Alzheimer’s. That alone sends a strong message about mental health stigma.”

In fact, breast cancer research, Alzheimer’s disease and now mental illness are among the 13 causes that will be listed on New Yorkers’ tax forms. A new option this year includes educational efforts to prevent women’s cancers. Other areas, including prostate cancer and volunteer firefighter recruitment, have been listed for contributions for many years, noted Liebman.

“This was a real victory for grass roots,” said Liebman. “People coalesced around this issue. More than a thousand calls were made to the governor’s office about this issue.Over 100 agencies supported us. It felt like a real team effort. The mental health community is a smart and passionate group of people. When we all coalesce around a single issue, we can be a powerful force.”

Liebman said he recently heard from a local organization in Maine that wants MHANYS to share its strategies behind its efforts to add a mental health tax checkoff on its taxpayer forms. “It’s something that is of great interest to them,” he said.

Volunteer donations

The legislation directs the state Office of Mental Health (OMH) to provide grants to organizations dedicated to eliminating the stigma attached to mental illness and to persons with mental health needs.

New York taxpayers can specify whatever amount they want, said Liebman. It can range from $1 to $1,000 or more, he noted. OMH officials will discuss internally strategic plans to raise public awareness around mental health issues, said Liebman. They will then send out a Request for Proposal to community mental health providers to bid on, he said.

“We look at this as sort of an opening salvo in what will be a series of public awareness changes in New York state,” Liebman said.

The success of MHANYS’s efforts to push for the mental health tax checkoff has emboldened the organization’s efforts to continue pushing for more issues important to them, such as an education bill that creates a mental health curriculum throughout the state. The legislation would raise the visibility of mental health and present it as part of the health curriculum for middle school to high school students, said Liebman.

“That’s our next big effort,” he said. “We know that 20 percent of students in New York are directly impacted by mental illness. Our constant message is that mental health is an important part of health care.” •

Cuomo signs mental health tax check off

Matt Coyne, 6:55 a.m. EST November 25, 2015

The check off allows residents to make tax-free donations to a fund that will fight to end the stigma around mental illness.

Mental health advocates have finally got their long-desired tax check off fund.

On Saturday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that creates a tax check off box in New York State income tax forms that will allow taxpayers to make a tax-free donation to a fund that will help end the stigma around mental illness.

The check off — now one of 11 on state tax forms — had the support of many local mental health organizations, including the mental health associations in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties, and had been a goal of some mental health advocates for years.

“This law will begin to stem the tide of the discrimination and stigma of mental illness,” said state Mental Health Association CEO Glenn Liebman. “One in four people in New York and the nation suffer with mental illness and the worst part of the illness is the mythology that people with mental illness are violent and crazy. Two out of every three people who need mental health services never seek these services for fear of being labeled as crazy or psychotic. This has to change and now we are better equipped with resources to facilitate that change.”

The collected funds will be in the custody of the state tax commissioner and comptroller and made available to the state Office of Mental Health. Since their creation in 1982, check-off programs have contributed more than $51 million to causes ranging from breast cancer research to the World Trade Center memorial to support for the facilities built for the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.

The change will take effect Jan. 1 and be reflected on 2016 tax forms.