Legislative Budget Hearing – Mental Hygiene

February 13, 2024

Good morning,Today is the Joint Legislative Budget Hearing on the the topic of executive budget hearings in the area of Mental Hygiene (OASAS, OPWDD, OMH).  You can watch that begins at 9:30 a.m. with testimony from the O agency commissioners here: https://www.nysenate.gov/calendar/public-hearings/february-13-2024/joint-legislative-public-hearing-2024-executive-budget

Please note: When the Legislature publishes the list of hearings online, advocates are permitted to register for just one hearing. The NYS Council goes to the Health/Medicaid hearing since so much of our agenda falls under the Medicaid Program which is the domain of the Assembly and Senate Health Committees.  We shared our Health/Medicaid testimony with all members on January 23, 2024  – the date of the Health/Medicaid hearing.  I will send you our written Mental Hygiene hearing testimony shortly.

This story  about proposed cuts to the budget for the Office of Addiction Services and Supports, first ran yesterday in Crain’s Health Pulse (Feb. 12) without a comment from the Governor’s Office.  Today, Crain’s is running the article again, this time with a quote from the Administration (bold ink)

Hochul proposes to cut budget for addiction as overdose deaths mount


Gov. Kathy Hochul proposed to cut funding for the agency overseeing addiction services in her recent budget proposal, sparking concerns that New York will be even more ill-prepared to address the overdose crisis as deaths rise, advocates say.

Hochul’s fiscal year 2025 budget proposal reduced funding for the Office of Addiction Services and Supports by 13.4% from the previous budget year, according to a presentation from the agency reviewed by Crain’s. The proposed OASAS budget for the upcoming budget year is $1.2 billion, roughly $179 million less than the previous year’s total. 

“The overall issue on the addiction side is that there was really a lack of investment,” Allegra Schorr, president of the Coalition of Medication-Assisted Treatment Providers and Advocates, said of the governor’s proposal. “That was really disappointing.”

The proposed cuts represent a decline in funding to local governments, which Schorr said will affect services across the board. She also pointed to a drop in funding for the opioid stewardship fund – an account that drug companies pay a portion of opioid sales into. The fund received $200 million in the fiscal year 2023 budget that was reappropriated in the following year, but the governor’s proposal included $187 million in stewardship funds.

Advocates are calling attention to the proposed decline in OASAS funding as state legislators prepare to establish their own budget proposals. The legislature will hold a mental hygiene budget hearing on Tuesday to hear testimony from the state’s mental health agencies and advocates about what’s needed to address the growing overdose crisis — a crisis that’s been deemed the worst on record.

Statewide overdose deaths skyrocketed nearly 300% between 2010 and 2021, the most recent year that data is available, with roughly 6,000 people dying from an overdose. Deaths in New York City have also reached an all-time high, with Black New Yorkers more rapid increases in overdoses compared to white people.

Despite the urgency of the epidemic, advocates say a tight budget year and persisting stigma around substance use disorders has resulted in less funding for the overdose crisis. Some are skeptical that the decreases in funding are related to the state’s $300 million allocation of opioid settlement funds within the last year, which are one-time payments that come from state litigation with opioid manufacturers and distributors over their role in the epidemic.

While the state is slated to get $2.7 billion from the settlements over the next 20 years, advocates noted that the money is intended for the specific purpose of creating innovative approaches to the overdose epidemic — and is not supposed to replace current state funding for addiction.

“I think there’s a feeling of ‘well, there’s some money around,’” Schorr said. “That is erroneous.”

“As one of the millions of Americans who has lost a loved one to the opioid epidemic, Governor Hochul is committed to taking bold action to address the overdose and addiction epidemic,” said Aja Worthy-Davis, a spokeswoman from the governor’s office. She added that the governor’s fiscal year 2025 budget includes “record-breaking investments that began when she first took office,” including an increase in projected OASAS spending in the coming year and continued opioid settlement fund allocations. 

But Lauri Cole, executive director of the New York State Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, said that the funding included in the executive budget is “not nearly enough to arrest this incredible overdose epidemic,” signaling a lack of attention to a public health crisis.

“New York state is not treating the overdose epidemic as one would think it would any public health crisis,” Cole said. “There seems to be a certain amount of passivity, or a lack of vigorous, aggressive tactics to arrest this problem.”

Advocates have pushed the governor to declare a public health emergency declaration regarding the overdose crisis, which would give her the power to authorize staffing changes and ease other regulations that could increase access to care. A handful of states, including Massachusetts and Maryland, have declared states of emergency, and the federal government declared one in 2017.

Schorr said that in addition to pushing for awareness around the overdose crisis, COMPA is calling for increased funding in the final budget. She noted that the 1.2% cost-of-living adjustment for the substance use disorder workforce included in the executive budget falls short of the 3.2% that providers asked for, and is calling for a $500 million increase in workforce funding. Her organization is also calling for a bill that would reform the Medicaid audit process to reduce administrative burdens on providers.

February 12, 2024: This story has been updated with a statement from the governor’s office, as well as a clarification around the amount of opioid settlement funding that has been allocated.