Erie County Legislature Approves $10.6 Million Plan to Combat Addiction | Local News
The Erie County Legislature on Thursday approved spending $10.6 million on salaries and programs to prevent and treat opioid addiction.
The money will come from $63.2 million in opioid lawsuit settlement money.
Legislature Democrats said the county must quickly approve the cash distribution plan.
“Quite frankly, we’re in crisis in Erie County,” said Legislator Lisa Chimera, chair of the health and human services committee. “People are dying every day.
However, not everyone approved of the distribution of the money.
Republican-backed lawmakers have said the legislature shouldn’t rush to spend millions without a closer look at how that money will be spent. They opposed adding county jobs to the health department and the probation department.
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“We’re going to create more government jobs than we have to pay for every year, just blowing up the cost of county government?” said Minority Leader Joseph Lorigo, C-West Seneca. “It is shameful.”
Brian Bray, assistant to the social services commissioner, said the new jobs would cost around $1million a year, with the costs covered by settlement money and other reimbursements.
The county is expected to receive $63.2 million to fight opioid addiction through 2038. Of that amount, $19.2 million is expected to arrive this year.
The money comes from drug manufacturers and distributors, as well as a state settlement with drug companies. Three-quarters of the money received this year is earmarked for addiction and mental health services, but some of the money will be saved for years to come.
The $10.6 million will be spent on:
• Nine positions in the Department of Health and the Department of Probation that were no longer going to be funded by grants.
• Nine new positions related to drug treatment in the Departments of Health, Social Services and Probation.
• Addiction and drug treatment campaigns and programs, including those targeting prisoners, immigrants and pregnant women.
• Medical and health supplies and laboratory equipment.
In addition, $6 million will be set aside to fund community initiatives. Organizations will have the opportunity to submit proposals to the Opioid Epidemic Task Force.
The county is on track to meet or exceed the number of confirmed overdose deaths from last year. In 2021, there were 286 confirmed overdose deaths. By early July this year, there had been 170 suspected and confirmed deaths.
Republican-backed lawmakers said more than $6 million should be spent on community-led initiatives and less should be spent on county jobs.
Lawmakers on both sides have expressed concern that only health agencies that already have contracts with Erie County are receiving upfront funding. Other agencies must submit proposals for settlement funds.
For example, Horizon Health Services is not directly funded by the administration’s plan because Horizon does not directly contract with Erie County. Horizon is the only agency in the region with a community crisis response center for opioid addiction and should not be excluded from funding, according to its officials.
The county administration said Horizon remains eligible for funding through the Opioid Epidemic Task Force. Spectrum Health and Human Services and Evergreen Health also have no direct contracts with the county and are expected to submit proposals for future funding under the $6 million grant program.
Administrators said additional funding was being provided to agencies with existing contracts to help them retain employees.
“I am not in favor of stopping the train of what has been put in place today,” President April Baskin said.
The minority caucus voted with the majority to spend money on jobs that would lose grant funding, as well as the $6 million for community initiatives, but Republican-backed lawmakers opposed the spending for new positions in the counties.