New York, NY Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WF-Manhattan) and State Senator Pete Harckham (D-Hudson Valley), Chairs of the New York State Assembly and Senate Committees on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, respectively, today called the suggested state budget cuts to Substance Use treatment providers across the state as unwise and potentially calamitous.
It was recently reported that the state planned to cut funding by 31% to treatment programs, part of an across the board series of cuts because of the financial devastation caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
But against the backdrop of the pandemic, overdose deaths are again increasing statewide after a slight downward trajectory last year. The increase is likely the result of a number of factors, including the stress of the pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home orders in place; the closure of some hospital-based overdose treatment programs to accommodate the explosion of Covid-19 patients; the difficulty in accessing naloxone, the overdose reversal drug; the strain on emergency first responders; and an interruption in supply chains that forced people to use unfamiliar but more readily accessible drugs.
While state officials have claimed that the funding cuts for treatment programs will be restored once the federal government provides further disaster relief assistance to cash-strapped state and municipal governments, the Substance Use treatment providers and the communities they serve will be left in dire financial straits until that happens.
In lean times, people often say we must cut the fat, said Rosenthal. The problem is, drug and alcohol treatment providers have been subsisting on starvation budgets for years, and there is simply no fat left to cut. A 31% cut for addiction treatment providers at a time when overdose deaths are increasing will mean more people will die from preventable overdoses as community-based treatment providers are forced to close their doors. To be sure, Covid-19 has placed an inordinate strain on the States budget but balancing it cannot come at the expense of peoples lives. It is not at all an overstatement to say that people will die as a result if these cuts go through. And these proposed cuts are particularly insulting when there are ways to ways to raise revenue and avoid these cuts."
It is certain that substantial decreases in funding to valuable, community-based treatment programs will add a great deal of woe to residents who need more help, not less, during this medical emergency, said Harckham. With our most vulnerable neighbors and loved ones especially at risk right now, we simply need to face these challenges together. Effective treatment options should receive the proper support they require.
Both Rosenthal and Harckham joined 101 of their legislative colleagues on a Statement of Principles for Fiscal and Social Responsibility During the COVID-19 Crisis and Beyond by the Fiscal Policy Institute and Strong Economy for All Coalition, demanding that the State exhaust all options to raise revenue before cutting programs and services available to working-class New Yorkers and their families, who have already been devastated by the virus. Before Covid-19 struck, New York State was facing a $6 billion budget deficit. With the pandemic forcing millions of New Yorkers out of work and thousands of businesses to close, that deficit has ballooned to about $13 billion.