Gillibrand eyes funds for mental health care

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., speaks earlier this year at Jefferson Community College in Watertown, calling for legislation to provide local governments with direct federal relief caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — U.S. Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., says the coronavirus pandemic is taking a toll on people’s mental health and has led to increased substance abuse, necessitating that funding to combat these issues be included in the next federal relief package.

Sen. Gillibrand sent a letter Wednesday to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer urging the inclusion of “robust” funding for substance use disorder and mental health care services in the next coronavirus relief package.

The senator said in a prepared statement that she is calling for 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.

She said that emotional strains and the stress of the upcoming holidays “are compounded when a loved one suffers from mental health and substance use disorders,” with the pandemic exacerbating the country’s addiction crisis, 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,” Sen. Gillibrand said. “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.”

She said 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, causing overdoses across the country to nearly double.

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, according to the senator’s statement.

At the same time, 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 are at risk of shutting their doors. Sen. Gillibrand said 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.

Sen. Gillibrand 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.

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As Cuomo wants to legalize marijuana, a gateway drug. You can’t make this stuff up...

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