North Country community action agencies, organizations eligible for up to $1 million each to fight opioids
Monday, March 12, 2018 - 2:44 pm

A bill recently introduced in the House of Representatives would make “community action agencies” in St. Lawrence County and elsewhere eligible for up to $1 million in grants to “address” the opioid epidemic “at the local level.”

That comes from a statement by Rep. Elise Stefanik, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, who represents the North Country in Congress.

The bill would establish the Community Action Opioid Response Grant as a competitive grant program within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), administered through the Office of Community Services. Goals would be to “expand and support effective community efforts to identify and respond to the causes and consequences of opioid misuse and addiction experienced by low income individuals, families, and communities,” Stefanik’s office said.

Community Action Agencies, designated as “eligible entities” under the Community Services Block Grant, would compete for grants of no more than $1 million and no less than $50,000 per year. Grants would be awarded for up to three years unless approved otherwise by HHS. The bill would authorize appropriations of $50 million for each of FY2018-FY2022, with up to 7 percent reserved for Indian tribes or tribal organizations, Stefanik’s office said.

“The heroin and opioid epidemic is devastating families across our district and we must continue to fight this epidemic,” Stefanik said in a prepared statement. “This bipartisan bill would establish grants that could be accessed by Community Action Agencies to address this epidemic at the most local level – inside the communities that are being harmed. I will continue to work with my colleagues on new solutions to this problem and am pleased to cosponsor this bipartisan bill.”

The nation’s Community Action Agencies (CAAs) are “uniquely positioned” to help fight the opioid crisis and its devastating impact on low-income people,” Stefanik said. More than 1,000 of these antipoverty agencies exist nationwide and they have seen first-hand the human cost of the epidemic. They are each governed by a board that represents all sectors of the local community, including its low-income residents. They regularly conduct comprehensive community assessments to identify pressing local needs and design effective responses. They have well-established and wide-ranging networks of private and public partners, including health care providers, social service organizations, the judicial system, local governments, and thousands of local volunteers. CAAs are holistic in their approach and trusted in their communities. CAAs receive core funding from the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG), which provides flexible resources they can use to fill gaps in services and address unmet needs; their CSBG allotments also enable CAAs to access and administer other public and private resources to benefit their communities. However, the opioid epidemic is rampant – designated by the White House as a national public health emergency – and its effects are especially dire for people in poverty. CAAs are dealing with the effects of opioid addiction on individuals and families and on communities as a whole. However, the needs far outweigh the resources, according to Stefanik’s office.