As the Senate and House debate what the next stimulus bill will look like amid the COVID-19 pandemic, funding for state and local programs hangs in the balance

What You Need To Know

  • ​Earlier this week, the Republican-controlled Senate released their version of a stimulus packaged call the HEALS Act to counter the Democrat-controlled House’s HEROES Act, which they passed in May
  • ​Despite an increase in need for mental health care during the COVID-19 pandemic, municipalities and non-government organizations are postponing projects until funding is secured
  • ​In Erie County, like many counties across New York, funding for mental health programs hangs in the balance dependent upon which stimulus bill is passed. ​Many of these counties continue to battle the opioid epidemic amid the coronavirus pandemic

While over half of U.S. adults reported worry or stress related to the pandemic caused them to experience at least one negative effect on their mental health, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, municipalities and non-government organizations are postponing projects until funding is secured.

While the Democrat-controlled House’s HEROES Act, a $3 trillion stimulus bill which they passed in May, contains $1 trillion in aid to local state governments — the HEALS Act, the $1 trillion stimulus bill put forth by the Republican-controlled Senate contains no aid to local and state governments. 

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, state revenues fell by 20 percent, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers. In June, in New York counties and in New York City sales tax losses in revenue fell 25.5 percent, according to the July 2020 Coronavirus Economic Impact Report by the New York State Association of Counties.

In addition to loss of revenue, three Western New York counties saw an increase in overdose deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic — with Erie County being one.

“We have to advocate for federal support for state and local support for the next round of stimulus funding,” said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz at Tuesday’s Opiate Task Force press conference.

The county lost 156 people to opioid overdose deaths in 2019, according to data provided by the county

To date, there have been 44 confirmed people who died due to opiate overdoses in the county — with an additional 127 pending cases.

If all of those deaths end up being confirmed due to opioids, the county will have surpassed last year’s numbers with almost five months left in the year.

Many of those deaths are people in their 40s, 50s and 60s who are using cocaine with traces of fentanyl in it, said Gale Burstein, Erie County commissioner of health at the press conference.

However, Burstein stressed that there are resources in the community to help those who are using, including free naloxone, their 24-hour hotline addiction hotline at 716-831-7007, medically assisted treatment and more.

In addition, the county partners with Evergreen Health and their harm reduction model which offers free fentanyl testing strips in Western New York, said Cheryll Moore, medical care administrator of the Opiate Task Force.

Evergreen Health’s harm reduction model encourages those who use drugs to have a supply of naloxone on hand, start with a smaller amount of their drug of choice than normal, use a fentanyl test strip on the supply and consider calling a helpline like Never Use Alone at 1-800-484-3731.

But due to these budget restraints because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Erie County hasn’t taken as much action on mental health initiatives as they’d like. 

There’s been a 31 percent cut to funding for mental and behavioral health locally because of the financial fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Mark O'Brien, the commissioner of mental health for Erie County, at the press conference.  

“The resources are there right now, but they’ve already been suffering, they’ve already adapted to the COVID crisis,” O’Brien said. “But we do not want to see any services suffer right now, so really the time for advocacy is right now.”

The next Opiate Task Force will be Monday, August 3. 

To learn more about the task force visit their webpage, you can text or call 716-225-5473 for naloxone.