Submitted by Bill Greer, SMART Recovery USA Board President
Over my 42 years in Washington, DC, I have participated in numerous legislative campaigns, including the Reagan and Bush II tax reforms and a battle between the entire retail and credit card industries to eliminate swipe fees. These efforts took many years and funding well into the six-, seven- and even eight-figure range to afford legions of lobbyists, political action committees, and extensive advertising and communications support.
The causes were important to the industries I represented, but nothing like the life-and-death stakes of the current addiction epidemic. Now SMART Recovery for the very first time in its history is reaching out to Congress for help. We are seeking support to increase our number of free meetings, staff and central office resources to save lives, families, and communities from a devastating public health crisis.
We have launched a campaign to educate Congress about SMART Recovery as the government seeks solutions to an addiction epidemic that is overwhelming America’s treatment system. Our immediate goal is to secure $2 million to support our plan to double the number of groups meeting in the U.S. to 4,000 over the next two to three years. We also plan to increase the number of online meetings to at least 100 to make SMART support more accessible to rural America – where the opioid problem has been especially severe.
Over the long-term, we want Congress and all federal agencies to know that the SMART community can make a significant contribution to alleviating this epidemic by helping people through our meetings and self-empowering and science-based program.
We are not doing this alone. LifeRing has recently joined our campaign, sharing how its program can contribute. We welcome others to join us.
We are benefiting from generous professional support from the Secular Coalition of America(SCA), which represents 19 organizations, including the American Atheists, Center for Inquiry and the American Humanist Association. Also supporting us is the Mental Health Liaison Group, a coalition of more than 60 nonprofits representing mental health and addiction providers, advocates, payers and other stakeholders committed to strengthening Americans’ access to mental health and addiction care.
SMART Recovery’s 2019 Congressional Efforts
Over the first four months of this year, we have aggressively pursued our funding objective, focusing on senators and representatives who serve on the health and appropriations committees and subcommittees that make spending decisions.
Among our activities:
- With SCA Governmental Affairs Director Mark Dann and SMART Regional Coordinator David Koss, I have met with the staff of 16 members of Congress.
- I submitted written testimony on April 8 detailing our funding requests for FY-2020 to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies.
- Our Central Office has cultivated a relationship with Rep. David Joyce (R-OH), who represents the district including our headquarters in Mentor and serves on the same subcommittee.
- David, Mark and other SCA members have met with many other members of Congress and their staff.
- On March 18, Chuck Novak, SMART Regional Coordinator for New Hampshire and Vermont, flew down to DC for meetings with nearly all the members of the New Hampshire delegation in Congress, including both senators.
- On April 24, we met with six of the seven members of the Connecticut delegation, joined by three SMART facilitators from that state: Tonya Cutler, Mark Foran, and Ally Kernan. They shared the details of an innovative program that combines regular meetings for teens and young adults with Family & Friends meetings, which is known by the acronym CROSS (Connecticut Recovery Oriented Support System for Youth).
Our founding president Joe Gerstein has made significant strategic contributions, including having a long-time relationship with the SCA. He has personally covered the travel expenses of many of the SMART volunteers flying in for one-day meeting marathons with numerous congressional staff members.
Breaking Through Block Grant Funding
CROSS is funded with $250,000 from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) through a State Targeted Response (STR) to the Opioid Crisis Grant. The Wheeler Clinic obtained the grant working with two state agencies: the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and Connecticut Department of Children and Families.
The CROSS program illustrates one way that SMART could seek funding through our current initiative. Although Congress has appropriated billions of dollars to address the addiction epidemic, most of this money is distributed to states through block grants and funding associated with specific programs, such as STR Opioid grants. We are seeking two changes in the way this block grant funding is allocated:
- 8% of sums appropriated for the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant program are made available to develop the capacity and infrastructure of evidence-based mutual aid recovery support programs that support medication-assisted treatment.
- Grants made pursuant to the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant program shall be for purposes which include developing and sustaining meetings of evidence-based mutual aid recovery support programs which expressly support Medication-Assisted Treatment.
The first provision would require SAMHSA to set aside an amount totaling about $15 million to give directly to national organizations, such as SMART and LifeRing, that offer evidence-based support programs and support medication-assisted treatment. The MAT requirement would meet the need for more mutual aid meetings that welcome people recovering from opioid addiction with the help of such medications, especially opioid agonists, reducing the number of overdoses.
The second would apply to grants that states receive, requiring that some of the funding be used to support the development of evidence-based, MAT-friendly meetings and programs. Click here to learn more about MAT.
To be approved, these provisions must be added to appropriations measures in the House and Senate and survive a lengthy and complicated legislative process, whose outcome is difficult to predict.
Driven by the passion of our volunteers and like-minded organizations, we have made extraordinary progress in our efforts to introduce SMART Recovery to Congress in recent months. However this campaign plays out, we are making a powerful first impression that sooner or later will reward our efforts and, most important, help the millions of people who need our support.