Pennsylvania is no stranger to the heroin crisis and the ongoing epidemic we are all experiencing. Many of us have been personally impacted by it in some way, whether it be a parent who has had to bury their child or spouse that struggles to find their wife/husband the help they need. The heroin crisis has destroyed our neighborhoods and homes, stretching from rural America to the big city. Just in the last year, the overdose death rate rose 23%.
Due to the ever-increasing number of drug-related overdose deaths, the state has fought vigorously to get additional funding for addiction treatment, new prevention methods, and other substance abuse resources. Nevertheless, $2.5 million was cut from the annual budget, a hit felt especially hard during what has become the worst health crisis of our time.
But, that’s not where the story ends. Shockingly, $200,000 of that had already been spent.
Under normal circumstances, grant recipients first receive a grant letter, then use their own funds and wait for reimbursement from the state. This has been the usual and typical protocol for years prior. No one thought any different when spending the funds this time around.
This year, many recipients received their letter from the state, which told them to get to work. Seeing that we are dealing with a heroin crisis, they did just that. Many assumed Pennsylvania would hold up their end to send out reimbursements. Every other year the money came through, so why worry now, right?
The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD), who is responsible for administering the funds, said that the indications of lacking funds should have been obvious to the recipients. Since Harrisburg was in a budget stalemate expected to last 6 months, they should’ve been able to determine that funds may not come through. How could it be obvious when the recipients received an award letter telling them to get to work?
Prevention Point Pittsburgh, an organization that focuses on harm reduction, was one of the many that began work under the notion that they would be reimbursed.
Aaron Arnold, Prevention Point’s executive director, describes the entire situation as a complete and utter surprise. Arnold said his organization made it very clear to the state that they would begin spending their $47,000 grant almost immediately.
At first, the PCCD appeared to be on track with the grant process. They asked Prevention Point present and submit progress reports and data showing their efforts to get addicts into addiction treatment. Eventually, the organization realized money wasn’t coming in and then got word that the grants were cut.
Some have argued its common sense not to spend money without the approval of a final budget in place, but the language in grant documents leaves the situation up for debate.
In one section the document specifies that grant projects run from July 2015 to June 2016. It then goes on to say, “implementation of the project must commence within 60 days of the effective start date”. Cancellation of projects can occur if they have not begun within 90 days. Isn’t it safe to assume, based on this specific language, it is “common sense” to begin as soon as possible, in order to not have their prospective projects cancelled?
Matthew Leonard, PCCD’s spokesman and assistant counsel said, “Nothing like this has ever happened, ever.” Nevertheless he went on to mention that nobody should have been spending money, even if the commission was accepting expense reports.
Make-up funds for programs such as Prevention Point do not currently exist. In total, an estimated $2 million was cut from the final budget. Roughly 6 of those recipients spent around $200,000 which will not be reimbursed.
This is a time when funds need to be enhanced and increased, not cut. Yes, we understand that somethings are out of our hands, but to expect recipients not to spend money when that is exactly what they were told to do, is diverting the blame. In recent years, Pennsylvania has been hit especially hard by the heroin crisis. We have seen the devastation it has caused for families, loved ones, and the addicts suffering from this epidemic. It has taken a toll on all of us, both in the state and throughout the country. Thus, this is not a time to split hairs or place blame, we must all ban together if we even want to make a dent in the heroin crisis in America.
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