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North Township is partnering with a mental health center to staff therapists at its Hammond and East Chicago offices.

The program aims to help township assistance recipients who have mental illnesses or are battling addiction.

North Township Trustee Frank Mrvan started the program, in part, because of an Indiana House bill that would have created a pilot program to drug test Temporary Assistance for Needy Families recipients.

The bill died in the Indiana General Assembly, but if similar legislation is introduced in the future, Mrvan wanted a program in place to help recipients.

"This will give a legitimate avenue for people to get healed and get their lives back together," Mrvan said.

North Township is funding the services provided by Regional Mental Health Center of Merrillville through its township assistance fund.

Mrvan couldn't provide a cost estimate for the program that began in February but said North Township budgets about $5.7 million to provide township assistance. Assistance also includes help with utility payments, rent and Dial-A-Ride.

"I find it is money well spent to assist someone instead of keeping them on the tax rolls," Mrvan said.

Clients are evaluated when they come into a township office to determine if they would benefit from the center's services. The township requests clients sign a contract pledging to follow through with the program, Mrvan said.

Therapists are available once a week and rotate between the Hammond and East Chicago offices.

The center charges the township on a sliding scale based on an individual's income, and a participant's health care coverage may pick up some of the cost.

Mrvan said the township will pay for a client's first four visits. For additional visits, Regional Mental Health Center staff will work to sign clients up for Medicaid to help defray the cost, Administrative Manager Amy Lopez said.

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