Funds cut for substance-abuse programs

Posted: Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Drug- and alcohol-abuse programs will have to pay more to keep their doors open under a bill passed Tuesday in the House of Representatives.

The proposal was introduced at the request of Gov. Frank Murkowski and increases the match that drug and alcohol programs pay to receive state grants.

Treatment programs would have to match 25 percent of the cost of the grants instead of the 10 percent they pay now.

The state will save $1.6 million if the bill is signed into law.

The vote on Senate Bill 124 was split along party lines, with 27 Republicans voting for the bill and eight Democrats voting against it.

Minority Democrats opposed the bill on the grounds that with the highest alcohol abuse, fetal alcohol syndrome and alcohol mortality rates in the nation, Alaska should be spending more on treatment programs, not less.

"Eighty percent of the crimes in this state are drug- and alcohol-related," said minority leader Ethan Berkowitz, an Anchorage Democrat.

Rep. Sharon Cissna, an Anchorage Democrat, called the measure a "rapid retreat" from providing alcohol treatment and prevention.

"I think we've got to sober up here a little bit," she said, advising House colleagues to vote against the bill.

But Rep. Mike Hawker, an Anchorage Republican, denied claims the bill would take money away from substance-abuse programs. Hawker said the bill would make the $1.6 million available to help fund smaller grant programs.

He also noted that programs with receipts under $30,000 are exempted from the change and that Department of Health and Social Services officials could waive the new match requirement for any program they feel is in need.

"This makes $1.6 million this year available to continue funding those smaller grant programs and other grant programs," Hawker said.

But Janet Clarke with the Department of Health and Social Services said those funds could be used anywhere within the department.

Hawker said the budget change also is partially due to the fiscal reality faced by the state. He denied claims by Democrats that the bill would hurt substance-abuse programs.

"That's floor talk. That is the debate points. It's very easy to wrap yourself in human misery. Human misery sells very easily. The brutal political reality is every penny that we spend on these programs comes from some Alaskan's pocket," Hawker said.

Other lawmakers said funding the programs should not be the responsibility of the state.

"We have a bigger issue for us to sell as leaders of this state, and the issue here for me is one of personal responsibility," said Rep. Jim Holm, a Fairbanks Republican. "Nobody puts a gun to their head and says you take (drugs and alcohol) ... Conversely, if the state is not responsible for the fact that somebody abuses a substance, it is not necessarily the place of the state to bail people out."

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