EDITORIAL: Where does the deal stop?

DESPITE THE GRIM flood of daily news noise, good things are happening in this county. That’s what we should be talking about in a local newspaper, not the presi…. Never mind. I won’t say it.

Start with CC4U, the Chatham Police Department program to help people with what’s medically called substance use disorders. The program, also known as Chatham Cares 4 You, encourages people with the disorder to come to the police station where police officers will drive them to drug treatment facilities. It’s been running for less than a year and has already helped over 100 people.

Last week we reported on a new phone helpline run by a community group called Columbia Pathways to Recovery (CPR). Its volunteers help callers find treatment options, which takes some of the burden off the Chatham cops. The CPR number is 877 467-3365 (877 HOPE 365).

Recently the county Department of Social Services offered to reimburse Chatham up to $6,000 for transporting people to treatment and the county Board of Supervisors adopted an Opioid Epidemic Response Plan.

None of these steps will magically end the opioid epidemic’s toll on individuals, families and communities. But Chatham Police Chief Peter Volkmann, with the support of his department, took a big risk committing to this police initiative. It’s building credibility and now CC4U could use some federal help too.

Good luck. The federal government is planning to cut funds for treatment. First it was the House of Representatives, with its proposal to disable Obamacare and replace it with a tax break for the wealthiest Americans. Now it’s the administration’s proposed federal budget, where money for treatment may increase but only for a year.

The White House budget plan takes credit for funds already approved by Congress and President Obama. That money will be gone in the following year’s budget. Meantime, the new budget proposal would cut Medicaid spending in half over the next decade. Medicaid is how many people pay for substance use treatment. So people who might be helped by CC4U will have one place to go: back on drugs and, as more potent, cheaper drugs flood the market, back to jail and the morgue.

This is how government by the art of the deal looks when you’re one of the chips being traded. In theory a businessman president makes tough decisions; some folks get hurt, but the economy grows and gets government off our backs.

So let’s consider what a 31% cut in the Environmental Protection Agency might mean for a community along the Kinderhook Creek. The creek flows by the Dewey Loeffel Landfill in southern Rensselaer County and then though Columbia County to the Hudson. Thousands of gallons of toxic industrial waste are in that landfill. Those poisons were leaking into the environment until the EPA forced the polluters to pay for a partial cleanup.

With nearly a third of its budget gone, will the EPA be able to monitor the dump? How would it benefit our economy if more pollution escapes? Would the EPA take big corporate polluters to court?

Don’t get weepy about deep budget cuts to SNAP, which used to be called food stamps. You can’t run a country like a business if you worry about hungry children. Or seniors, either, though the average age in this county is among the oldest in the state. Meals on Wheels? Get rid of it. Not good for the nation’s business.

Government is about Big issues, like infrastructure. Like a wall. Here the scale is different; big issues are smaller. Take sewer systems. Villages improve and expand them with funds from something called Community Development Block Grants. Those grants, responsible for so many improvements in practically every local municipality, will be gone. It’s just business.

Government needs changes. Programs outlive their usefulness. Efficiency can be a worthwhile goal when it’s not the only goal. The administration says this budget focuses on the taxpayer. Well, some–the taxpayers with the highest incomes.

The document released this week by the White House is not a budget, it’s a transfer plan. It benefits the federal government, Inc., by transferring the expenses it has for serving its customers and places them instead on states and municipalities. It’s good business. It’s a perversion of democratic government.

Negotiations with Congress will likely restore some of the cuts. GOP lawmakers want to win reelection. The president will strut his now-familiar deal making moves by yielding here and there. The way it looks now, both sides will walk away pleased with their skill at fleecing the people who have the least.

Comments are closed.