With the pandemic blowing a hole in the economy and leading to a drastic drop in state tax revenue, budget officials have for months been withholding payments for state contracts to manage cash flows. Among the victims of that fiscal approach are substance use treatment providers who are being forced to cut already-limited services and consider staff layoffs and furloughs, which they say will likely lead to a sharp increase in overdoses and new disease outbreaks around the state.
The pandemic caused a 14% drop in expected revenue for the state in the current fiscal year, roughly $13.3 billion, leading the state to reduce $4 billion in spending so far by withholding contract payments across the board and imposing freezes on new contracts, hiring, and pay raises, according to the Division of Budget. Governor Andrew Cuomo has said the state cannot meet the shortfall unless the federal government provides aid, failing which he would cut about 20%, or $8.2 billion, of funding for local governments for everything from education and social services to health care programs.
But several nonprofit providers that contract with the state to run substance use treatment programs – including syringe exchanges, sexually-transmitted infection (STI) screenings, naloxone overdose rescue training, and more – are already feeling the crunch, having gone months without being paid by the state. The state has also cut local funding for substance use and addiction treatment programs by 31%, according to news reports, exacerbating providers’ worries about being able to provide services.
In interviews, providers and harm reduction advocates painted a dire picture. They say that the already rising rate of overdoses that they are witnessing is at risk of spiking to the same levels as 2016, when the opioid epidemic reached its peak and spurred local and state officials into action. Since official data lags behind and could be unavailable until even a year after the fact, they fear that by the time the actual numbers become apparent, it will be too late. A generational crisis could be underway.
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