OASAS Commissioner Chinazo Cunningham told Capital Tonight that opioid settlement funds will be out the door within a matter of weeks.
“We think that we will be able to start spending money within weeks,” she said.
This comes after some tension between OASAS, the New York State Office of Addiction Services and Supports, and some members of the Opioid Settlement Fund Advisory Board, which has the statutory authority to recommend how the monies are spent.
Last week, OASAS rejected two of the advisory board’s recommendations to fund harm reduction efforts under the state Department of Health.
The board had recommended that 22% of the allotted pool of money go to harm reduction services, the largest recommended allocation.
On Wednesday, Capital Tonight spoke with two members of the Settlement Board who expressed their dismay at OASAS’ decision.
On Friday evening, Capital Tonight asked OASAS Commissioner Chinazo Cunningham about those concerns.
“It’s really important to know that the board had many recommendations, hundreds of recommendations, and out of those hundreds of recommendations, only two were rejected based on current law,” she said.
Some board members have argued that the letter from OASAS citing current law wasn’t appropriate.
The letter’s language stated the following:
“…the Board does not have the authority to direct and spend State monies. The authority to direct and spend State monies lies with the Executive and the Legislature."
But the board did not “direct and spend State monies” as the letter indicates. Instead, the board made recommendations for funds to be suballocated or transferred to other agencies – power given to them by the Legislature.
When asked about the language in the letter, Cunningham again stated that the authority to spend money lies with the executive branch and the Legislature. But the commissioner also acknowledged that harm reduction efforts are “near and dear” to her personally.
“The board has recommended harm reduction as its number 1 priority. Harm reduction is also a priority for us as OASAS,” she said.
In the past, harm reduction funding has gone through the Department of Health. But according to Cunningham, the DOH’s harm reduction efforts tend to focus on “ERs, hospitals, and primary care settings."
Under Cunningham, OASAS is also entering the harm reduction sphere, but it will be focused on a different area than the DOH.
“We at OASAS focus on the treatment system that focuses on addiction,” she explained. “We need harm reduction there too.”
When asked if the DOH will receive some of the money from the opioid settlements, she said yes.
“We agree that DOH, which has done harm reduction for many years should receive some of this funding; we are working with DOH collaboratively,” Cunningham stated.
She is also hopeful that some settlement funds go to the Office of Mental Health.
Additionally, Cunningham stated that she is also in agreement with members of the Opioid Settlement Fund Advisory Board that the funds need to be quickly spent to help as many people as possible.
“We also agree that there is an urgency to get the money out the door and into communities. Absolutely,” she said. “What we also heard from the Board, very strongly, is that they didn’t want any money to be spent until their recommendations were received. We received the recommendations six weeks ago.”