As the beginning of the Summer Congressional Recess rapidly approaches at the end of this week, we must take stock: What is the status of pending mental health reform legislation? What is the status of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA)? Our stock-taking can provide important guidance for our own next steps.
An unchangeable fact is that the 2016 Congressional calendar is drawing quickly to a close. Once the Summer Recess begins, attention will turn immediately to the two national conventions and the fall elections. Very little Congressional action can be expected until after these elections have been completed. It is even more dubious whether the current Congress will hold a Lame Duck Session. Thus, great urgency exists for effective advocacy right now if we are to see needed action on mental health reform and CARA.
Mental health reform
The Senate Mental Heath Reform Act of 2016 (S. 2680) is strongly preferred by the National Association of County Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Directors over the House Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (H.R. 2646), which passed the House last week 422-to-2. The latter bill still contains problematic provisions on SAMHSA leadership and operations, and on AOT, none of which are in the Senate bill. However, in the Senate-House Conference Committee, these problematical provisions could be removed.
Action needed now: Urge Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to place the Mental Health Reform Act of 2016 on the Senate calendar for a vote before the Summer Recess. At the same time, urge Senator McConnell to appoint Senate Conferees to work with House Conferees. Also, urge House Speaker Paul Ryan to appoint House Conferees for the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act before the Summer Recess.
Comprehensive addiction and recovery act
The situation with respect to CARA is somewhat different. Both the Senate and House have passed a CARA bill, the Senate-House Conference Committee has met, and the House has voted 407-to-5 to accept the Conference Report. The Conference Report authorizes spending of $591 million.
Action needed now: Urge Senate Majority Leader McConnell to hold a Senate vote to accept the Senate-House Conference Report on CARA before the Summer Recess. Once this is done, the bill will go to President Obama for signature.
Equally strong advocacy is needed to translate the CARA financial authorization into an actual appropriation. This advocacy needs to assert the urgency for immediate action on the opioid epidemic and the need to expand the $591 million into $1.1 billion as originally requested by the White House.
This summer, our legislative situation is quite unique. We have two very important pieces of legislation that we must carry over the finish line. Contact your Senators and demand action on both bills. Contact your Representative and urge increased funding for CARA.
Take action today!