Opioid Crisis Gets Attention From House Spending Panel

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The nation’s opioid crisis is getting some help from the House of Representatives committee that funds the U.S. Justice Department.

In its proposal for the federal spending year that starts October 1, the panel highlighted $103 million for programs to help stop abuse of opioids. That amount would fully fund a recently passed House bill creating Justice Department grants to help state and local governments expand programs for the prevention and treatment of drug abuse, and train first responders to administer overdose-reversal drugs. The Senate’s version of the bill includes $132 million to combat opioids.

In the House bill, much of the money included in the opioid portion covers existing programs, such as drug courts. Only $16 million appears to be for entirely new purposes, which is not a high total for a national program.

House members would give the Drug Enforcement Administration $2.1 billion, a small amount higher than this year. That includes $12.5 million for four new “heroin enforcement groups.”

The committee is scheduled to meet today to approve the overall proposal, which still must go to the House floor and be reconciled with the Senate. It is possible, if Congress doesn’t finish work on spending bills during its shortened election-year schedule, that much spending will end up in a “continuing resolution.”

As they did in the Senate, organizations that help crime victims were big winners in the House bill, getting $2.737 billion for next year, higher than the Senate’s $2.578 billion and slightly more than they are getting this year. In past years, crime victims complained that Congress had put an artificially low cap on money they are supposed to get from criminals’ payments of fines to federal courts.

Crime-fighting grants to states and localities would get $425 million, up from $347 million this year. Also getting an increase are programs to combat violence against women, which the House would fund at $528 million, up from $480 million this year.

Losers in the House bill include community policing hiring grants, which would get nothing, as would two major DOJ juvenile justice programs.

The COPS program is expected to survive because the Senate committee voted to give it $187 million. Typically, House Republicans who control the appropriations process have been hostile to police hiring grants, which were started by President Bill Clinton in 1994.

House appropriators gave the FBI $9.1 billion, a small increase over this year. They would also give a bit more money to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which would get $1.3 billion.

More than $7 billion would continue to be spent on operating federal prisons, which take up about one-quarter of the DOJ’s total budget of $29 billion. Critics have expressed hope that the prison number can be reduced in the future if Congress ever enacts any sentencing reform legislation.

Funds would be provided to add 25 immigration judges to help reduce the backlog of pending cases.

The House would keep many other grant programs at their current levels, including the programs to deal with missing and exploited children, National Instant Criminal System background checks, DNA initiatives, money to reduce sexual assault kit analysis backlogs, and grants for programs to help former prisoners under the Second Chance Act.

Both the National Institute of Justice, DOJ’s main research agency, and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, would get their regular appropriations under the House proposal.

Last year, the House committee sought to eliminate the line item budgets for the two agencies and have the Attorney General find money for research and statistics from other parts of the DOJ budget. The Senate insisted on keeping the agencies’ budgets intact.

The House panel would set aside $5 million for a “nationwide incident-based crime statistics program.” The FBI already maintains such an effort, and it has received support for expansion from FBI director James Comey, and just this week from a National Academy of Sciences expert committee studying crime statistics.

Ted Gest is president of Crimnal Justice Journalists and Washington bureau chief of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments welcomed.

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