Alaskan Gov’t Shutdown Crisis Barely Averted

Written in Blog On July 1, 2017

In order for the federal government to continue funding each state throughout the country, legislation must be passed first. This writer claims no extensive knowledge of politics, but basically it seems to go like this… By the end of each fiscal year, something called an appropriations bill must be made into law. This bill is essentially a budget plan for all government-funded departments, agencies, and programs.

If for whatever reason this bill is not made into law by the end of each fiscal year, a whole lot of budgets are cut-off, either substantially or completely. According to Clinton T. Brass, analyst in government organization in management, “Programs that are funded by laws other than annual appropriations acts (like Social Security) also may be affected by a funding gap, if program execution relies on activities that receive annually appropriated funding.”

The state of Alaska was approaching a state of crisis in this regard. The current date of the next appropriations bill that must be made into law and signed off on by President Trump is July 1st. If ink hadn’t touched paper by then, countless organizations, facilities, programs, and even 2.5 million fish could have all met their peril.

So too would have most of the state’s mental health and substance abuse treatment facilities.

Luckily for all, a plan was reached and approved on Thursday the 22nd of June. Still, the entire statewide population of both recovering addicts and those seeking help was about a week away from having all of their resources taken away.

Let’s talk about that plan, how and why a crisis had to be barely averted, and where the state of Alaska sits in the American opioid epidemic.

If the Government were to have Shut Down

The following list is incomplete. This is a mere example of the multitude of budget cuts the state would have experienced, had an emergency budget plan not been put together at the last minute. The cuts would have somehow negatively affected:

  • Mental health treatment facilities
  • Drug and alcohol abuse treatment facilities
  • The statewide ferry system
  • Department of Motor Vehicles operations
  • Park rangers
  • State visitor centers
  • Unemployment insurance claims
  • Road construction
  • Timber sales
  • Birth/Marriage certificate production
  • The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, from Anchorage to Whittier
  • The state crime lab
  • The sex offender registry
  • Background checks for employment
  • Concealed weapon permits
  • Walrus and bear viewing areas
  • Shooting ranges
  • Low-income preschool programs
  • Food programs for children
  • Child support casework
  • The 2.5 million fish in the state’s hatcheries
  • The billion-dollar Bristol Bay salmon fishery

What an incredible amount of impact that could have come from simply not getting a budget approved on time! It goes to show just how much we rely on the federal government for everyday services. Also, when the decision is made to utilize government funding as opposed to direct self-funding, possible shutdown is one of the risks taken.

Such was and still is the case with many of Alaska’s mental health and substance abuse treatment facilities. As reported by Alaska Dispatch News, “Years ago, the state made the decision to contract with private, nonprofit treatment providers instead of providing health care services directly.”

What could have Happened to Treatment Services

The majority of treatment facilities for both mental health issues and substance addictions are private nonprofit businesses. This means much reliance on federal grants and not much of a monetary surplus. If the federal funding were to be stopped, these facilities would not have much money to wait it out. Therefore, sacrifices are made – everything from laying people off to suspending certain services.

In early June, when it was already getting down to the wire, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a press release. It explained a portion of the possible effects of a government shutdown. Included in the press release were “services provided through private organizations and businesses that receive DHSS grant funding.”

By default, this includes the majority of Alaska’s facilities. This is quite bad news for a state that consistently ranks in the top ten for opioid abuse and for alcohol consumed.

Alaska’s Substance Problem at a Glance

It’s booze, it’s heroin, it’s pills, and it’s much more. Alaska has a serious drug problem.

Alaskan residents consume a significant amount of each of the following: alcohol, marijuana, heroin, methamphetamine, prescription drugs and cocaine. In 2013, the year before America set records for opioid deaths, approximately 100,000 Alaska residents reported having abused one of these substances within the last thirty days. That year, less than 750,000 people resided in-state.

Nearly 15% of the state population abuses drugs. And this was the year before America got completely out of hand.alaska heroin use

Hundreds of pounds of illicit substances are seized every year. Thousands of arrests are made. Alaska is the only state left with a widespread bootlegging operation for alcohol. Over 100 dry communities exist, where people will pay up to $300 for a ten-dollar bottle of junky liquor. Prescription pills are cheaper there than almost anywhere else in the continental US, selling for about a dollar a milligram. This is cheaper than heroin, which is nearly never the case. In fact, one of the main reasons pill abusers switch to heroin is to save money.

As of lately, things are honestly not much better, if not worse. In February of this year, Alaska Governor Bill Walker declared a public health disaster in his state. The opioid death rate in Alaska has quadrupled over the last four years. In 2016, of all drug-related deaths in the state, an overwhelming 74% of them were caused by opioids.

The last thing the state would have needed at this point is a government shutdown.

Budget Passed at the Last Minute

For a fiscal year beginning July 1st, lawmakers normally propose a budget by the end of April. This year it was proposed during the second half of June. It was only approved last Thursday. This year’s appropriations bill was rushed, so much to the point that at least one legislator actually missed the Senate vote.

As reported by US News, “Several members who were out of town hustled back for the vote. Sen. Mike Dunleavy, who missed the Senate vote, said he did not understand why the vote needed to be rushed and expressed frustration with a lack of communication on the issue.” It was not even just that the decision got rushed because of the upcoming deadline. According to fellow Alaskan Senator Dennis Egan, the budget was laced with problems. Still, Egan voted yes in order to avoid a government shutdown.

Surely he wasn’t the only one.

The budget was passed 16-1 by the Senate and 31-8 by the House. On paper, this seems as if the budget plan is general favorable. Such is not the case according to House Majority Leader Chris Tuck, who put it rather bluntly: “I wouldn’t say it’s satisfying at all.” The fact is that the plan was proposed two months later than usual, and mere days before an actual government shutdown. Common sense suggests that more people than just Sen. Egan voted yes but in reality did not approve.

What We Know about the Budget

Upon heavy searching, it seems that the actual budget plan for the fiscal year ending July 1 is not yet available for online viewing. However, the above-linked US News article offers the following information, highlighting the main focuses of the budget:

“The proposal, advanced by budget negotiators and passed by the House and Senate, would continue to draw from savings to help fill the state’s multibillion-dollar deficit, something Gov. Bill Walker had hoped to avoid.

“It also would fully fund K-12 education, provide $57 million for oil and gas tax credits and limit to $1,100 the size of this year’s dividend check Alaskans receive from the state’s oil-wealth fund, the permanent fund.”

Alaska is a very oil-driven territory, and the full funding of K-12 is wonderful news in the world of addiction recovery, since education is the key to prevention. However, the best news, regardless of the quality of the budget overall, came in the next line written in the US News article:

“A three-quarter vote was needed in each chamber to take money from the constitutional budget reserve to help fund government services, thresholds that were met.”

Since the majority of Alaskan substance abuse recovery and mental health support centers are government-funded, they qualify as government services, and for at least one more fiscal year are protected. This is excellent news for the many recovering addicts living in the last frontier who rely on such facilities.

There is a flipside to this. Those in charge of the Alaskan budget nearly failed to secure the money necessary to keep countless programs and services going. This is clear evidence that it’s possible an actual shutdown could happen in Alaska, or in ANY other state – and soon. The deficit for Alaska is currently somewhere around $2.5 billion. Head south a couple thousand miles to California, and the deficit is somewhere around $1.6 billion…

If a Shutdown Occurs in California’s Future

If every government-funded recovery center in your home state were to lose funding, all residents in recovery would need a plan. They would need somewhere to go in order to continue the journey toward a sober life. It couldn’t be in-state, and international travel is highly unlikely when seeking a new facility. If you live on or near the west coast, the answer is easy.

Just head to California’s leading recovery facility, located in the city with arguably the best weather on the planet.

Apex Recovery can be found in San Diego, less than ten miles from the ocean. The facility offers state of the art treatment, care, and residential services. As written on their website, “Our rehab therapy is diverse and includes many models that have been studied for effectiveness with addicted individuals.” What else would you expect from a center built by a former addict and led by one of California’s most decorated doctors?

Founded by Fred Bowen, a former addict of many drugs, is now 12 years sober and his “passion lies in helping others to achieve the same personal freedom I’ve experienced through the elimination of drugs and alcohol. Apex Recovery CEO is Dr. Matthew Bruhin, Ph.D, LMFT, RAS, a licensed marriage & family therapist, as well as an addiction specialist.

Sometimes a little claim to fame matters, and as stated on the site, Dr. Bruhin “has worked with clients from A&E’s hit TV show Intervention, as well as the Tyra Show.” He also frequently appears on television to educate the public on the dangers of addiction.

An incredibly multi-faceted facility, Apex offers:

  • Chemical Detoxification
  • Alcohol
  • Heroin
  • Benzo
  • Prescription Drug

Chemical Dependency Therapy

  • Alcohol
  • Heroin
  • Xanax & other Prescription Drug
  • Cocaine
  • Meth

Dual Diagnosis Therapy

  • Depression
  • Bi-Polar
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep Disturbance

Other Various Therapies

  • Cognitive-Behavioral
  • Holistic Healing
  • Dialectical Behavior
  • Marriage & Family
  • LGBT

In Conclusion

The bottom line is that no government body is perfect, and a budget can fail to go through, and the majority of treatment centers in your state can shut down. If you or a loved one is among the millions of Americans who suffer from either a substance addiction or mental health issues, a government shutdown could spell disaster.

Apex Recovery is a surefire solution for anyone even remotely near the west coast in the event of shutdown. However, to be frank, Apex is the number one choice with or without one. No other facility is going to offer such a lavish residential stay, complete with a multitude of evidence-based programs, extracurricular activities, and an affordable price to boot.