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SAMHSA Boosts State Aid in Mental Health, Substance Abuse

Additional funding is providing $2.5 billion to the agency in supplemental block grant funding for states for pandemic-related stressors.

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The White House has provided $2.5 billion in grant block funding to states and territories through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to address the mental illness and addiction crises that have worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of the $2.5 billion, $1.65 billion will go to SAMHSA’s Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant, and $825 million will go to the agency’s Community Mental Health Services Block Grant. The two grants allow states and territories to address and prevent substance use disorder and provide community mental health services, respectively.

SAMHSA determined the funding for each state based on a “statutorily mandated formula,” the agency said, and each state and territory has the flexibility to distribute funds to local governments or community- and faith-based organizations that provide substance use disorder prevention, early intervention, treatment and recovery support services.

The supplemental funding to SAMHSA’s block grants come amid increased rates of substance use and mental health decline during the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in mid-2020 that 40% of American adults reported struggling with mental health and substance use. These rates were also higher in young adults, racial and ethnic minorities, essential workers and unpaid adult caregivers.

“We know multiple stressors during the pandemic — isolation, sickness, grief, job loss, food instability and loss of routines — have devastated many Americans and presented unprecedented challenges for behavioral health providers across the nation,” Acting Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use Tom Coderre said in a statement. “During this time of increased urgency, we want to assure them that funding is in place to help states and territories provide pathways to prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery services, especially for underserved populations.”

SAMHSA is encouraging block grant recipients to adopt strategies that document the diversity of its service population and providers and to arrange an array of “culture-specific interventions and providers” to improve access, engagement, quality and outcomes.

“One such strategy for addressing these disparities is use of the recently revised ‘National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health and Health Care,’” a SAMHSA spokesperson told GovernmentCIO Media & Research. “In order to implement other appropriate outreach and engagement strategies for diverse populations, states must have a detailed understanding of who is and is not being served within the community, including in what languages, services provided, retention in services and performance results, which are all critical measures of quality and outcomes of care for diverse groups.”

The boost in block grant funding follows other work that SAMHSA has done to help in the growing mental health and substance use crisis the country has faced amid COVID-19. SAMHSA launched a COVID-19 resource page online, and the agency has been working with federal partners like the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to ensure that the expansion of telehealth services that occurred last year include phone calls in reimbursements.

“We also provided trainings to medical professionals previously untrained in the provision of such services to people who have mental and substance use disorders — people whose recovery journeys could be hampered by the loss of treatment and supportive services,” the SAMHSA spokesperson said. “The free, virtual opioid use disorder buprenorphine treatment trainings, in particular, that we provided medical professionals proved popular — they frequently were at capacity. The block grants represent but the latest in billions of dollars we have sent to states, territories and tribes in resources to help connect those in need with evidence-based supports, services and treatments.”

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