Georgia Drug Abuse Program Faces Cutbacks

Barbara Cooper laughs after her daughter Eizlynn, 3, received a piece of candy at the Cobb Douglas Community Services building. Barbara Cooper is a June 2011 graduate of the Mothers Making A Change program and comes to the facility to check in with her counselor.

For more than a decade, drugs ruled Barbara Cooper’s life.

She lived with a drug dealer, began stealing, ended up in jail, had her three children put in foster care and attempted to kill herself. By the time she entered Mothers Making A Change — a substance abuse treatment program in Marietta — last year, the 27-year-old was scared but grateful.

Without it, “I don’t think I would be alive right now,” she said.

The potential loss of millions of dollars in federal money to run such programs, however, could drastically cut drug and alcohol treatment services that have helped thousands of women like Cooper take back their lives.

Georgia faces a roughly $20 million cut in supplemental funds from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which finance more than two dozen residential and outpatient programs that help women overcome addictions and keep their children out of foster care.

Georgia is one of 17 states that receive extra money from the program — established under welfare reform in 1996 – based on population growth, poverty and other factors, said Cassandra Price, head of the addictive diseases division at the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities.

The supplemental portion of the program is on the chopping block for 2012 as Congress wrestles with soaring budget deficits. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has recommended the funding remain in the budget, spokesman Jesse Moore said.

Georgia is still expected to receive roughly $330 million under the basic TANF program in fiscal 2012, said Clare Richie, a senior policy analyst at the nonpartisan Georgia Budget & Policy Institute.  Meanwhile, state officials could reallocate federal money to keep some of the substance abuse programs alive.

Without such programs, women in the throes of drug addiction often land back in jail or on the street; their children end up in foster care, said Neil Kaltenecker, executive director of the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse.

They provide transportation to and from treatment, safe housing for women and their children, family education, help searching for jobs, anger management groups, day care and other services.

Throughout Georgia, these programs served more than 3,000 women and children in fiscal 2011, according to the Georgia Association of Community Service Boards. They helped keep 500-plus kids out of foster care and saw more than 180 babies born drug free, the association said.

“These women get jobs, they get education, they get life skills,” Kaltenecker said.

The state budget office has been able to redirect $11.6 million in other federal funds to fill part of the gap, but the cut would still mean having to shut down all 14 outpatient treatment programs and 35 transitional housing beds, as well as eliminating 80-plus residential spots, Price said. Residential and transitional housing in apartments offer a safe place for women and their children as they receive treatment and begin searching for work.

“It would have a horrendous impact,” said Stacy Hull, director of residential services and addictive diseases at the Cobb Recovery Center, where Mothers Making A Change is located.

The program, run by the Cobb and Douglas Community Services Boards, served nearly 100 women last year. It would lose all 18 of its outpatient slots, half of its 20 residential beds and its three transitional apartments, Hull said. Children are going to end up in foster care or the juvenile justice system or even using drugs themselves, she said.

Ultimately, it will end up costing taxpayers more, Hull said. On average, outpatient treatment costs roughly $20 a day versus $40 to $50 daily for a person in jail, she said. Caring for a baby with serious health problems because of drugs can cost $3,000 a day, Hull said.

“You’re going to have to pay for it somewhere,” she said.

Ironically, the cuts come at a time when the state is focused on boosting substance abuse treatment in other areas, said Richie, of the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute. In November, a special council on criminal justice reform advocated expanding the state’s drug court system and finding other alternatives to prison for lower-risk offenders.

“If people need treatment, where are you going to send them?” Richie said. “You might be cutting costs in one area just to see them increasing in another.”

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