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Big Funding Gap Between House, Senate on Addiction Issues

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The U.S. Senate and House have both passed FY2000 spending bills affecting the bulk of federal funding for substance abuse. But the two bodies are decidedly split on how high a priority treatment and prevention should be in the overall budget picture, which has been haunted by the spending caps contained in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.

The Senate bill, S-1650, cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee on a 19-0 vote on Sept. 28, and provides a $131 million increase to the substance abuse block grant, following the recommendation outlined in the Clinton administration's budget. If adopted, total block grant funding for FY2000 would stand at $1.72 billion.

$100 million of this increase, however, would be borrowed from the FY2001 budget in a controversial appropriations trick that creates the illusion of budget discipline while allowing lawmakers to exceed spending caps. Overall, the Senate would increase SAMHSA funding by $263 million.

The bill also maintains funding for the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment's knowledge development and application (KDA) grants program at $171 million (the same as in FY1999), and adds $4 million to the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention's (CSAP's) KDA program, for a proposed FY2000 total of $168 million. The latter is a $30 million increase over the Clinton administration's budget proposal for CSAP KDAs.

S-1650 is currently being debated on the Senate floor, but advocates in the addiction field are more concerned with the legislation's House counterpart, which cuts both KDA programs and provides no increases for the block grant. Passed only by a 32-26 margin in the House Appropriations Committee on Sept. 30, the House version of the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education spending bill would reduce CSAT KDAs by $34 million, and slash CSAP KDAs by $37 million. The House also would cut all funding for CSAP's High-Risk Youth program, which the Senate proposed maintaining at $7 million annually.

The House bill has drawn fire from groups like Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, which is urging members to contact their representatives to express support for the Senate version; and the Clinton administration, which said that the House cuts would deny treatment to 31,000 people with addiction problems.

S-1650 also includes an $850.8 million Youth Violence Prevention Initiative, which reallocates funds from a number of agencies to fund research, prevention, education and treatment programs. “Youth violence has become a public health problem that requires a national response,” noted the Senate in its conference report on Labor/HHS funding.

The Senate bill would establish a federal coordinating committee on youth violence, designates the Surgeon General to lead the government's violence-prevention efforts, and provides funding for a National Resource Center on Youth Violence Prevention and a network of 10 National Centers of Excellence to research and develop individual and community anti-violence interventions and curricula to train health care workers to identify violent behavior.

Perhaps most significantly, the Senate plans to boost funding for after-school programs by $100 million under the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, and provided an additional $40 million for school-based counselors. The Department of Education also would receive an additional $25 million to help local education agencies hire and train drug prevention and school safety coordinators. Funding increases for the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) also will be directed toward violence-prevention activities.

The Safe and Drug-Free Schools program, long the cornerstone of federal school-based prevention programs, would receive a $10 million increase for state programs and a $10 million increase for national programs under the Senate bill; the House calls for flat funding of Safe and Drug-Free Schools.

Partly as a result of new anti-violence initiatives, NIDA's budget would rise from $606 million in FY1999 to $683 million — a figure agreed upon by both the House and Senate. The Senate bill calls for a $32 million increase for NIAAA; the House would boost NIAAA funding by $21 million.

In other budget news, President Clinton signed the Treasury and General Government appropriations bill into law on Oct. 1, which includes $185 million for the Office of National Drug Control Policy's national youth anti-drug media campaign. The bill also includes $132 million for violence crime reduction programs, including the administration's Youth Gun Crime Interdiction Initiative.

Congress is still working on appropriations bills for Agriculture, Justice, Defense, Foreign Operations, Interior, Transportation, and VA/HUD. Since the deadline for passing the budget has passed, Congress passed a resolution on Sept. 28 to keep the government in operation at FY1999 levels until at least Oct. 21. Congress had passed an appropriations bill for the District of Colombia, but President Clinton vetoed it, expressing concern that provisions to overturn a voter referendum on medical marijuana and to bar funding of needle exchange programs violated the rights of D.C. citizens.

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