November 18, 2020

As Overdoses Spike Across New York State During COVID-19 Pandemic, Gillibrand Pushes For Robust Funding To Support Substance Use Disorder And Mental Health Care Services In Next Relief Package

Experts Say Social Isolation, Increased Financial Stress, Loss Of Work, Lack Of Structured Time, And Uncertainty Due To Pandemic Have Been A Factor Behind Rising Overdoses; Gillibrand: Robust Funding And Passage Of Bipartisan Family Support Services For Addiction Act Is Critical To Support Nonprofits And Community Organizations Providing Services To Families With Loved Ones Seeking Addiction Treatment

Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand urged Senate leadership to include robust funding for substance use disorder and mental health care services in the next coronavirus relief package. Gillibrand called for robust emergency funds for providers of mental health and addiction treatment services to maintain operations, and ensure stability for the duration of the economic and public health crisis.  

“For many families the emotional strains and stress of the holidays are compounded when a loved one suffers from mental health and substance use disorders. And, as the pandemic has exacerbated our country’s addiction crisis, individuals and their families are in even greater need of resources to keep themselves and their loved ones safe,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Many mental health care and substance use disorder support services are faced with the heavy burden of helping Americans in need with limited resources. Shoring up these programs with robust funding, and the passage of my bipartisan Family Support Services for Addiction Act, would ensure that nonprofits and organizations supporting those recovering from substance use and their families can keep their doors open.”

Social isolation, increased financial stress, loss of work, lack of structured time, and daily stress and uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic have exacerbated mental health issues and substance use disorders and caused overdoses across the country to nearly double. Now, the emotional strains and stress of the holidays threaten to compound this crisis. In Albany and Rensselaer Counties, overdose deaths have increased by more than 40% compared to last year. In Erie County, the number of overdose deaths increased by 77% compared to 2019 and in Onondaga County there were twice as many opioid deaths in the first half of 2020 as there were in the first half of 2019. 

Additionally, the COVID-19 crisis has interrupted traditional care services and many mental health and addiction support providers, which were overburdened before the pandemic, are facing financial strain and at risk of shutting their doors. In New York, community behavioral health organizations may have to close within the next few months without financial assistance and providers have had to make tough decisions with limited resources, including payroll cuts and rationing life-saving supplies. Supplemental emergency funding in the next legislative package is critical for these providers to maintain operations, ensure stability, and continue serving their communities for the duration of the crisis. Advocates, including the National Council for Behavioral Health, estimate nearly $40 billion in emergency funds is needed for providers of mental health and addiction treatment services.   

Throughout the pandemic, Senator Gillibrand has fought to support the needs of New Yorkers struggling with mental health and substance use disorders, and their families. She previously called on Senate leadership to include robust funding for substance use disorder and mental health care services as Congress negotiated a relief package over the summer. Earlier this year she introduced the bipartisan, bicameral Family Support Services Act to create a $25 million grant program over five years to help nonprofits and community organizations provide support services to families with loved ones seeking addiction treatment. The legislation was recently passed in the House of Representatives.

Full text of the letter can be found below. 

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Dear Leaders McConnell and Schumer: 

As you negotiate the next coronavirus package, we urge you to include robust funding for substance use disorder and mental health care. Robust supplemental funding will help address the substance use disorder crisis that has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. With such funding, individuals will be better supported to begin and sustain recovery, and family members will be better equipped to find help for their loved ones as well as themselves.  

The combination of social distancing, increased financial stress, loss of work, lack of structured time, and uncertainty about the future — coupled with disruption to traditional and local care services — has created a perfect storm for mental health and addiction struggles and a pressing need for increased funding for treatment and support services. Meanwhile, mental health and addiction providers and organizations are in an economic crisis and in jeopardy of failing because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In New York alone, community behavioral health organizations expect to close their doors within months because of the financial uncertainty originating from the pandemic. If these organizations fail, millions of people living with mental illness or addiction will flood health centers, urgent care facilities and emergency departments, all of which are already over-burdened.  

The mental health and addiction field needs supplemental emergency funding in the next legislative package to combat the economic and health care effects of COVID-19, maintain operations, and ensure stability for the duration of the crisis. Advocates, including the National Council for Behavioral Health, continue to urge for the allocation of nearly $40 billion in emergency funds for providers of mental health and addiction treatment services.   

Your inclusion in the final negotiated package of robust funding to support substance use disorder and mental health services will provide necessary resources for at-risk individuals, their families, and their communities.  

Our country’s substance use disorder and mental health crises have been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the wake of increased isolation and anxiety coupled with treatment and support system disruptions, the number of people suffering, relapsing, and dying from substance use disorders is increasing. Now, more than ever, those with mental health and addiction struggles and the caregivers looking to help them need our help. 

Thank you for recognizing this need and responding in kind.  

Sincerely,