The long term effect of the shutdown is as-yet unknown, but expected to be significant.
Although President Trump recently agreed to reopen the government after a five-week shutdown, he’s said it will only be open for a three-week period. The long shutdown has had a severe impact on people with substance use disorder and negatively affected people in need of government support services.
In the shutdown, an estimated 800,000 government workers have been denied pay, and many have been asked to work without payment. They will receive back pay when they return to work, but over one million government contract employees will not get the same treatment. In the same time, the shutdown has affected welfare programs, food assistance programs, and public health programs. The long term effect of the shutdown is as-yet unknown, but expected to be significant.
When the government shuts down, it causes a ripple effect that impacts everyone. Furloughed workers, their families, and communities—which include people with substance use disorder—may struggle to pay for medication, treatment, transportation, food, housing, medical care, and other basic needs. Some federal employees are on food stamps and at risk of eviction because they have not received a paycheck for five weeks. The families they support, as well as the stores, services, and shops where they would have spent their paychecks, may also be struggling. For parents with children in treatment, or families who are supporting loved ones through their recovery, this shutdown is especially dire. The tools of recovery, which can include medication, recovery support groups, individual or group therapy, visits to the doctor, holistic care like yoga or acupuncture, and more, are suddenly impossible to access when a family has no income.
People with greater needs, such as people who rely on recovery support or harm reduction, face greater barriers to care when resources are scarce. In some cases, the shutdown means that federal aid was completely cut off from the people who need it. For example:
- Mental health services for low-income Americans. According to an article in the Washington Times, low-income residents of Washington DC may lose access to mental health services because the DC Department of Health Care Finance won’t be able to make its next Medicare payment. Medicare is a federal program that fuels community mental health services around the country.
- National Institutes of Mental Health. This organization funds and conducts both basic and clinical research into the causes, treatments, and prevention of mental health disorders such as addiction, depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and schizophrenia. With NIMH shut down, both ongoing and future research is in jeopardy. Don’t forget that real people are enrolled in clinical trials and may be depending on treatments that have provided them with the first real relief in their whole lives.
- Head Start. This initiative has helped children nationwide, and launched a pilot program in Massachusetts especially for children whose parents have opioid use disorder. Head Start provides key resources and programs for autistic children and kids with other mental health challenges.
With a three-week reprieve ahead, it’s not clear how recovery related organizations will rally at the federal level. Local groups, such as Facing Addiction with NCADD’s network partners, are hard at work on the front lines of the national drug epidemic, helping people and providing support. However, the crisis will not end solely through grassroots work. Policy change, federal reforms, and funding for recovery are all critical to make this public health crisis a thing of the past. That can only happen if the government stays open and functional.
Moving forward, recovery advocates can work with their elected officials to mitigate damage from another shutdown and ensure that recovery resources are accessible, protected, and prioritized.