A representative of U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Upper Arlington) met with the Madison County commissioners Monday to discuss the county’s needs on the federal level, particularly getting funding to combat the heroin epidemic locally.
Commissioners told Joe Bengoechea, a field representative for Stivers, they are interested in grant money to help addicts recover, as well as put prevention measures in place.
“We continually have overdoses. We continually have deaths from these overdoses. It’s an epidemic in that sense,” said Commissioner David Dhume. “It’s critical we know [Congressman Stivers] and Sen. [Rob] Portman are there to know what we have, and we need help.”
Dhume was particularly interested in funding from the recently-passed Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which Portman (R-Ohio) introduced in 2015.
The act sets aside a total of $187 million into nine provisions to fund law enforcement, local health services, the states and local government efforts to combat addiction.
Dhume praised local efforts, such as the Madison County Substance Abuse Coalition and the London Recovery Project, but argued more resources were still needed.
Through levies and state funding, about of $1 million goes to fund the county’s Mental Health and Recovery Board. However, the widespread abuse of painkillers, heroin and other opiates is clogging the system and quickly drains those funds.
“We have court backlogs because we can’t get evaluations, because they don’t have the staff, because they don’t have the money to hire the staff,” said Dhume. “Our jail count is at about 200, which is 50 over where it should be. It’s overwhelming us. The courts are overwhelmed. The sheriff is overwhelmed. The jails are overwhelmed. Mental health is overwhelmed.”
He said more funding is needed for prevention efforts.
Commissioner Mark Forrest agreed, feeling that prevention was a key to fighting the epidemic.
“Prevention is often left out,” he said. “We need grants on the prevention side. Currently, I believe we spend five percent on recovery. I believe prevention’s a bigger key than rehabilitation. Stop it before it happens.”
Dhume also highlighted the expense of treatment for addiction, and said the county would be seeking more money for those programs as well.
Another request was to look for ways to fund the upkeep of infrastructure projects.
“I think the engineer is responsible for 340 miles of highway and all the bridges connected to it. If you look at the townships, I think it’s another 150 or so,” said Dhume. “But they work with the engineer for the extra manpower. Those infrastructure needs are huge.”
Dhume’s final suggestion was for Stivers to look into economic development in the region, saying that Central Ohio needs more jobs with “sustainable living wages.”
Bengoechea said he would look into it and relay what they told him to Stivers.
He told commissioners the majority of the federal grants are divided among the state governments and agencies. There are only a few that require direct application to the federal government.
“I don’t know about the process, so I’ll have to get back to you on that,” he told commissioners. “But last week I was told it’s up to the states to apply for the grants. It will take time to get locally. But I know the money is trickling down that way.”
“We can request information from the Library of Congress. They can do more in depth reports,” he added. “But you can’t ask them, we have to ask them. It’s how the law is set up. They’re kind of the holder of all the information on grants that are federal.”
Dhume directed Bengoechea to send any information on available grants to County Administrator Rob Slane.
“I’m talking any and all,” he said.
Maximilian Kwiatkowski can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1617, or on Twitter @msfkwiat.