February 09, 2021

Gillibrand, Trone Lead Bicameral Call To Bolster Funding For Substance Use Disorder And Mental Health Care Services As Pandemic Exacerbates Addiction And Mental Health Crises

Lawmakers: Pandemic Has Spurred Increases In Substance Use, Overdoses, Depression, And Anxiety; Robust Funding For Services And Passage Of Bipartisan Family Support Services For Addiction Act Is Critical To Support Nonprofits And Community Organizations Providing Services Those Struggling With Addiction And Their Families

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and U.S. Representative David Trone (D-MD) urged Congress to include robust funding for substance use disorder and mental health care services in the next coronavirus relief package. In their letters to Senate and House leadership, the lawmakers called for $10 billion in funding for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), dedicated to the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant and Community Mental Health Services Block Grant programs. 

Since the pandemic began, social isolation, increased financial stress, loss of work, lack of structured time, and daily uncertainty have exacerbated mental health issues and substance use disorders and caused overdose rates to soar. The CDC reported over 81,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States between July 2019 and June 2020 — the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period. Meanwhile, mental health and addiction providers and organizations have been overwhelmed by need and are at risk of closing their doors because of the financial uncertainty originating from the pandemic. 

“The pandemic has exacerbated our country’s addiction crisis and we must do more to address the troubling trend of high rates of mental health and substance use disorders,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Many mental health care and substance use disorder support services face the heavy burden of helping Americans in need with limited resources. Shoring up SAMHSA with robust funding in the next package would ensure resources are available to those recovering from substance use and will help save lives.”

“COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the growing number of Americans dealing with mental health and substance use disorders, and it’s time we address these crises head on,” said Rep. Trone. “We will never have a vaccine to address mental health or addiction, which is why we need consistent, long-term funding to support those across our country that are impacted by these diseases. I want to thank Senator Gillibrand for recognizing the importance of coming together to request this additional funding in the COVID relief package as the next step towards addressing these growing epidemics.”

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 repeatedly called on Senate leadership to include robust funding for substance use disorder and mental health care services as Congress negotiated the last relief package. Gillibrand and Trone previously 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.

Full text of the letter to Senate leadership can be found here and below. 

Dear Chairwoman Murray and Ranking Member Alexander,

At the onset of 2021 and a new presidential administration, we still find our country battling multiple health crises, including an increase in untreated mental and behavioral health disorders. The pandemic has spurred increases in substance use, overdoses, depression, and anxiety. Studies have found that worry and stress related to COVID have had a major negative impact on many Americans’ mental health, particularly for those who have lost income or a job. In June, over 40% of surveyed adults reported a negative mental or behavioral health condition related to COVID, including 31% who reported anxiety or depression symptoms, 13% who started or increased their substance use, and 11% who seriously considered suicide over the past month. It is critical that we address this troubling trend. 

We are grateful for the funding that has already been provided to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in previous COVID-response packages, including $4.25 billion in the December 2020 bipartisan omnibus package, but more assistance is needed. We respectfully request that the next COVID response bill include $10 billion in funding for SAMHSA, dedicated to the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant and Community Mental Health Services Block Grant programs.

Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant Program

We request that $5 billion be designated for the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant (SABG) program. The CDC reported over 81,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States between July 2019 and June 2020. This is the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period. While Congress has made great strides in addressing the COVID-19 response, we cannot ignore the worsening addiction crisis. SABG provides funding to states and territories to plan, implement, and assess activities that both prevent and treat substance use disorder. This funding is necessary to increase prevention efforts and ensure that individuals with substance use disorders can receive life-saving treatment, despite the additional barriers posed by COVID-19.

Community Mental Health Services Block Grant Program

We request that $5 billion be designated for the Community Mental Health Services Block Grant (MHBG) program. Of the more than 30% of American adults who recently reported having symptoms consistent with an anxiety and/or depressive disorder, over 20% reported needing, but not receiving, mental health counseling or therapy. Based on increases in depressive disorder and unmet mental health needs, as well as data collected during the 2003 SARS epidemic pointing to the likelihood of increased suicides in a number of demographic groups, many researchers remain concerned that the COVID-19 pandemic will result in an increase in suicides. MHBG provides comprehensive, community-based mental health services to adults and children and supports implementation of a comprehensive, community-based mental health system. Given the surge of new mental health needs due to COVID-19, it is imperative that we provide robust funding to expand access to effective mental health treatments.

As COVID-19 continues into the new year, we must not lose sight of the addiction and mental health crisis we faced before the onset of the pandemic, and which has only been exacerbated by it. These behavioral and mental health services are crucial to save lives and improve Americans’ well-being. Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Sincerely.