ALLEGAN, Mich. (WOOD) — Congress is funneling $14.8 million into five rural West Michigan communities to help expand mental health services.

The money is set to be disbursed in Allegan, Barry, Berrien, Branch and Ottawa counties.

“I’m really excited because this is the next step in funding for community mental health issues,” U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, who was involved in the push for the funds, said.

The money is coming from federal coronavirus aid. Stabenow said it will have a significant impact for the 20% of Americans who have a mental illness or substance abuse disorder.

“We’re talking about 24-hour psychiatric emergency services, care for families regardless of their situation and if you walk in the door, you’re going to get help,” Stabenow said.

The largest chunk of the nearly $15 million is going to Allegan County, which will receive $3.9 million. The money will be spread out over the course of two years.

“One of the ways it’s going to help us a lot is to be able to respond to needs we normally would not be able to,” Mark Witte with Allegan County Community Mental Health said. “Some of the funding that we rely upon historically has been for those with the most severe forms of mental illness and really disabling conditions. These new dollars move those restrictions out of the way so we can serve all needs.”

Witte says his office sees about 1,700 clients. With the additional funds, he estimates being able to serve about 500 more clients, which he says is important now that the demand for services is up.

“The needs that people have increased during the pandemic because social isolation increased and that aids anxiety and things like that, and so we had to figure out how to deliver to those folks continuously,” Witte said. “We’ve had to learn techniques for remote interaction, which is a little bit challenging here in Allegan County where not everyone has great internet connection or bandwidth that allows them to be supported that way.”

Witte says his department will use the money to hire about 14 more staff members, invest in crisis response vehicles and services that can be sent directly to people in need and help with medical substance abuse treatments.

“I’d like to think this is really going to be an asset that we will be able to treasure for a long time,” Witte said.

Allegan County Community Mental Health says the grant will be delivered at the end of August but it is hoping to start extending services now. It is encouraging people to begin reaching out.