William Bell, President of Casey Family Programs, Spoke at the Senate Health Committee Hearing on the Opioid Crisis

Monday, February 12, 2018

William Bell, President of Casey Family Programs, Spoke at the Senate Health Committee Hearing on the Opioid Crisis

A U.S. budget deal adopted by Congress on Friday includes what advocates call a landmark compromise to provide an estimated $1.5 billion (£1.08 billion) over 10 years to try to keep struggling families together, including those with babies born dependent on opioids.

The provision allows assistance on mental health, substance abuse and parenting whenever any child is deemed at imminent risk of entering foster care. It also offers support for relatives who unexpectedly assume responsibility for a child when a parent cannot.

The funding is part of a bipartisan budget deal passed by lawmakers which alleviates spending fights that marked President Donald Trump's first year in office, but sets the stage for a battle over immigration and exploding deficits ahead of November's congressional elections.

The measure is intended to help newborns whose mothers were addicted to opioids, including heroin, during pregnancy. 

More than 110 babies died between 2010 and 2015 after being born opioid-dependent and sent home with parents ill-equipped to care for them, a 2015 Reuters investigation found.

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Finance Committee, said the funding “will usher in the most significant improvements to the child welfare system in decades and provide real help to families to fight the opioid epidemic.”

The change opens up a new stream of money from a Social Security program now limited to foster care. It allows an estimated $1.5 billion over 10 years to be used to prevent children from entering foster care.

LITTLE NOTICED

The action this year was part of a broad congressional budget agreement that includes about $6 billion for opioid and mental health issues. Though little noticed in the larger debates over defense and domestic spending, the section of law called the Family First Prevention Services Act fills more than 100 pages of the 652-page budget compromise.

Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, Republican chairman of the Finance Committee, who co-sponsored that part of the legislation with Wyden, said on the Senate floor on Thursday that it would “help keep more children safely with their families.”

At a Senate committee hearing on Thursday, William Bell, president of Casey Family Programs, said that for every $7 spent on foster care there is only $1 spent on intervention. He said states need the ability to target their existing resources into early intervention services...

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