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Texas officials launched Operation Lone Star in 2021, a border security initiative. A year later, it was running out of money.
In April 2022, Abbott wrote a letter telling six agencies it was taking money from their budgets and putting it toward the state’s border operations. That included taking $210.7 million from the Health and Human Services Commission, which provides mental health services.
News reports showed that state officials used federal COVID-19 dollars through the federal CARES Act to replace those state funds.
After a deadly mass shooting at a mall in Allen, Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott characterized the root problem as a matter of mental health, not gun control.
"What Texas is doing in a big-time way, we are working to address that anger and violence but going to its root cause, which is addressing the mental health problems behind it," Abbott said May 7 on "Fox News Sunday."
Abbott, a Republican, also said Texas was working on getting guns "out of the hands of dangerous criminals" and on increasing penalties for criminals who possess guns. Buthe identified mental health spending as the priority.
"People want a quick solution," Abbott said. "The long-term solution here is to address the mental health issue."
But if mental health is the root problem, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said Abbott has fallen short.
Others on Twitter, including a Democratic pundit, made similar statements.
A Newsom spokesperson pointed to news articles stating that Abbott shifted money from a state agency that offers mental health services, among other support, toward a border initiative. But other articles showed the state replaced those transferred dollars with federal COVID-19 relief money.
The Texas Department of Public Safety launched a southwest border security initiative in March 2021 called Operation Lone Star.
Abbott and Texas lawmakers have poured more than $4 billion into the initiative, which pays for personnel to patrol the border and to protect private landowners’ interests by arresting migrants who trespass on their property.
Abbott in April 2022 said Texas was allocating about $495 million more to the operation, days before it was set to run out of cash.
In a letter to state departments, Abbott wrote that money would be transferred from six state agencies to support the border program. The transfer included about $210.7 million from the state Health and Human Services Commission over two years. The state agency offers mental health services and more.
Abbott wrote that "2020-2021 appropriations would otherwise lapse" and that the 2022 appropriations "have been fully funded with other sources." Abbott’s letter did not explain those "other sources." The transfer would not affect any agency or program function, he wrote.
Tiffany Young, a Health and Human Services Commission spokesperson, told PolitiFact there were "no cuts" to the commission’s mental health services. The commission replaced the $211 million in state revenue with funding from the federal 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, aka CARES, Act.
Young cited H.B. 2 in 2021, a budget measure that said reductions in appropriations from the state general revenue fund hinged on CARES Act funding.
"Mental health services were not impacted by this method of finance swap," Young said.
A commission spokesperson gave a similar statement to KENS-TV in May 2022 about state dollars being replaced with CARES Act money.
The Washington Post reported in May 2022 that Abbott and state officials used $1 billion in COVID-19 relief money for Operation Lone Star. The Post found that during a state Senate committee hearing in April 2022, Sarah Hicks, an Abbott budget adviser, acknowledged the budget transfer.
"For the agency, it was a dollar for dollar," Hicks said. "It was just a swap."
Texas’ Democratic congressional delegation raised questions about how the state was using COVID-19 money, but the Post said Congress never prohibited states from such budget swaps. The $2.2 trillion act included payments to most Americans, enhanced unemployment aid, and funded loans for small businesses.
Hicks told House budget writers in July that federal COVID-19 money was a crucial part of the "matrix" of decisions that helped augment Operation Lone Star spending, The Dallas Morning News reported in September 2022.
"If we didn't have federal dollars, we would've had to make different decisions," she told the Appropriations Committee.
Under state law, Abbott had authority to reallocate funds as needed, Rice University political science professor Mark Jones told PolitiFact.
"It's a perfectly legitimate budgetary maneuver as long as you follow Texas law, which he did," Jones said.
Abbott was not required to replenish the money he shifted away from the state agencies, but chose to replenish them to avoid a net loss.
"He didn't cut mental health funding," Jones said.
Abbott was on firmer ground using state money to fund Operation Lone Star than using CARES Act to directly fund the border initiative, Jones said.
Texas has ranked near the bottom of states on mental health spending, according to Mental Health America, a nonprofit advocating for people with mental illness.
The group’s annual "State of Mental Health in America" gave Texas an overall ranking of 46 in 2023. It also ranked Texas last on "access to care," which includes access to insurance, access to treatment, quality and cost of insurance, access to special education and mental health workforce availability. The group acknowledges that the report has limitations — people who are homeless or in jail are not represented in the data, for example.
Texas is one of 10 states that has not expanded Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act. Expanding Medicaid would give some 1.5 million Texans access to mental health services, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation estimate.
"If you are going to criticize Abbott and Texas Republicans, it shouldn’t be for a common budgetary maneuver," Jones said. "It would be for their continued opposition to expanding Medicaid, which could provide mental health care to more than 1 million people."
After the June 2022 mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, state officials announced $105.5 million, largely for school safety equipment. That also included about $11 million for mental health services in schools including a program for at-risk youth.
Newsom said Abbott "cut $211 million in mental health funding."
In April 2022, Abbott said that about $495 million would be transferred out of six state agencies to support the state’s border program. The transfer included about $210.7 million from the state Health and Human Services Commission over two years. Abbott’s letter said that appropriations had been "fully funded with other sources" but didn’t identify those sources.
However, some news outlets identified those sources and found Texas swapped out state money with federal COVID-19 relief dollars. That’s why it is misleading to call what Abbott did a "cut."
We rate this statement Mostly False.
Fox News Sunday, 'Fox News Sunday' on May 7, 2023
Gov. Gavin Newsom, Tweet, May 7, 2023
Gov. Greg Abbott, Letter to state agencies, April 29, 2023
Texas House Bill 2, 2021-22
Kaiser Family Foundation, Medicaid expansion and Texas
Office of the Governor, Budget and Policy Division, and the Legislative Budget Board by Health and Human Services Commission, Legislative Appropriations Request for Fiscal Year 2024 and 2025 Volume I (page 227), Sept. 9, 2022
Texas Tribune, Gov. Greg Abbott redirects $500 million from other agencies to fund border security mission through end of fiscal year, April 29, 2022
NBC News, Abbott calls Texas school shooting a mental health issue but cut state spending for it, May 25, 2022
Washington Post, How federal pandemic aid helped Texas pay for its border crackdown, May 6, 2022
The Nation, Exclusive: Texas Governor Greg Abbott Used Covid Aid to Pay for a Border Wall, Oct. 6, 2022
Texas Democratic Congressional delegation, Letter to U.S. Treasury Department, May 9, 2022
San Antonio Express News, Texas governor debate recap: Fact checking Beto, Abbott claims on immigration, taxes, Sept. 30, 2022
Dallas Morning News, How Texas is paying for border security push under Operation Lone Star,
Dallas Morning News, Abbott’s border costs growing, April 10, 2022
Dallas Morning News, GOP leaders shift $105M to initiatives, June 29, 2022
Austin American Statesman, Texas allocates additional $495 million in funding for Operation Lone Star, April 29, 2022
Austin American Statesman, Six mass shootings and 90 dead. What has Gov. Abbott done and has it been enough? Oct. 21, 2022
Houston Chronicle editorial board, Editorial: Abbott’s record on mental health stinks. After Uvalde, his talk must come with funding. June 3, 2022
Mental Health America, The State of Mental health in America, 2022
Fox News Sunday, 'Fox News Sunday' on May 7, 2023
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Firearm Mortality by State, 2021
Pew Research Center, What the data says about gun deaths in the U.S., April 26, 2023
Email interview, Nathan Click, political spokesperson/advisor for Gov. Gavin Newsom, May 8, 2023
Telephone interview, Greg Hansch, executive director of NAMI Texas, May 8, 2023
Email interview, Tiffany Young, Texas Health and Human Services Commission spokesperson, May 8-9, 2023
Email interview, Andrew Mahaleris, Gov. Greg Abbott spokesperson, May 9, 2023
Telephone interview, Rice University political science professor Mark Jones, May 9, 2023
The Dallas Morning News. How Texas is paying for border security push under Operation Lone Star, Sept. 13, 2022
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