Editor's note: Mental Health Musings (MHM) will focus on community resources and stories throughout the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

New York’s joint legislative session held the Mental Hygiene Hearing, the seventh of 13, on the 2020-2021 Executive Budget on Friday, February 5. Government officials and advocacy groups provided testimony to the Senate and Assembly fiscal committees regarding mental health funding.

The over-a-yearlong COVID-19 pandemic exasperated mental and behavioral health needs in the nation and in the state. Fatal overdoses increased across the nation and in New York, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nearly 20 counties in the state reported increases in opioid-related deaths amid the pandemic — including Erie, Niagara and Chautauqua counties.

Despite this, funding for mental and behavioral health services are being withheld due to the economic strain of the pandemic on New York’s budget.

The Executive Budget withholds 5 percent of local assistance funding to nonprofit programs along with a 1 percent Medicaid cut. Although this may be reversed if there is federal funding allocated to the state

During the hearing, the Coalition of Medication-Assisted Treatment Providers and Advocates (COMPA) submitted a testimony for several policy changes regarding opioid treatment in the state including: establishing a more comprehensive approach to telehealth services, eliminating copays for treatments at Opioid Treatment Programs, making Medicaid transportation more reliable, directing all settlement dollars and opioid tax to treatment, and having medically assisted treatment options at all correctional facilities.

“As New York continues to struggle with the impact of the pandemic and the increase in deadly overdoses across the state, it is vital that the State support policies that increase access to comprehensive treatment and remove barriers that impede that access,” according to a statement made by COMPA at the hearing.