Instead of turning away addicted mothers and their young children, Nancy Anderson is once again gearing up to accept them into one of the state’s few residential drug and alcohol treatment programs for such women.
The normally tough director of the Letty Owings Center had been awash with worry since the governor released a budget to cut state money for residential treatment by 80 percent. That would have meant shutting down most of the places that house Oregon’s 476 state-funded treatment beds, including 43 at Letty Owings.
But in an unexpected turn, the Legislature’s Joint Ways and Means Committee didn’t make a single cut to residential treatment in the new two-year state budget. The state provides three-fourths of the money — $15 million annually — for Oregon’s residential treatment.
“It’s kind of astounding,” said Anderson, who had started taking fewer clients to prepare for the worst. “Maybe they heard us. Maybe the Legislature heard us.”
In the hours after the budget’s release, some social services officials were so sure of big cuts that they weren’t sure they were reading the numbers right.
“It doesn’t look like they reduced funding at all — we’re still waiting for confirmation from the state,” said Joanne Fuller, director of the Multnomah County Department of Human Services. “If it’s true, then it’s incredibly exciting for us and important for our community.”
In March, Sen. Margaret Carter, Ways and Means co-chair, had vowed to protect residential treatment, but warned with the state facing a multibillion-dollar shortfall, nothing would go untouched.
Yet Carter, D-Portland, said the high cost to the state if treatment dried up for addicts — particularly addicts who are parents — outweighed any immediate benefit of cuts. She also emphasized the role of public testimony for treatment.
“It influenced my decision greatly,” Carter said. “The message was strong all across this state to make sure we preserve drug and alcohol programs because so many Oregonians are crippled” by addiction.
But lawmakers still must pass the budget and cuts could still come.
In the meantime, the potential crisis highlighted the vulnerability of treatment funding and the need to find permanent dollars and create a stable and accountable system, said Attorney General John Kroger.
“The system as a whole is not a successful one,” Kroger said. “We need to produce a coherent long-term plan for drug treatment.”
Kroger has drafted a bill calling for the creation of a state commission that would find permanent funding, allow more people to get treatment and force providers to track the success of their programs once people have gone through them.
“The current budget crisis is in a lot of ways an opportunity for us,” he said. “Right now providers can’t add treatment beds because they’re never certain if they’re going to have the money to pay for them. We have a very weak treatment and prevention program. Ten years from now I want us to have a very good one.”
Anderson has no arguments with that. The waiting lists for people to get into drug treatment across the state can be four months long. And like other providers, Anderson would love to track families once they leave her doors, but doesn’t have the money to do it.
For now, she’s relieved that she isn’t going to have to turn away the women who want to turn their lives around.
“We told them about the budget and they are just so happy,” Anderson said. “We’re gearing back up again.”