Attempting to Strengthen Recovery Capital Against a Tide of Disenfranchisement

April 18, 2021
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My organization, PRO-A recently joined 36 other state and regional recovery community organizations across America and sent this letter to Congress to educate them on the woefully inadequate funding for grassroots recovery community organizations. Disparate funding is the norm even as Billions of supplemental dollars flow out to the states. Even when these allocations specifically mention recovery community organizations, they consistently fail to get resources to recovery community organizations at any equitable level. The funds generally end up elsewhere. This must change.

Here in Pennsylvania, not one single dollar from the federal (SAPG) block grant is allocated for our statewide recovery community organization. Not even one penny. Other statewide recovery community organizations are experiencing similar dynamics. As the letter to Congress from our 37 recovery organizations states:

“Block grants require states to have consumer advisory committees, yet without supported

statewide recovery community networks ensuring leadership, advisory structures become

rife with tokenism. Funding, intended to support our efforts when passed through the SSA

system more often than not go to large foundations, long-standing clinically focused

providers, and academic institutions well connected and well poised to secure these funds

yet with little or no insight into local recovery needs of communities.”

We are experiencing systematic disenfranchisement. Millions of dollars goes to large foundations and politically connected groups, while recovery community organizations buy ink for their deskjet printers with social media funded campaigns. Recent grant applications for recovery support services in our state include treatment programs as eligible and have short turn around periods, which disadvantages small grassroot recovery community organizations and advantage large treatment organizations who can write grants quickly. These are dynamics that are unfortunately widespread across the United States. We should have broad conversations about what gets funded, and what equitable means in respect to funding allocations that support grassroot recovery community organizations in meaningful ways.

The new recovery advocacy movement was founded by the recovery community and oriented towards inclusion of recovery communities, in all our diversity in all elements of care planning, provision and evaluation. Improving care and recovery rates cannot occur unless there is meaningful inclusion of our community in matters that impact us.  As I wrote about last year with recovery historian Bill White in this piece on Recovery Representation:

“Supporting and strengthening long-term recovery across multiple pathways of recovery and diverse cultural contexts must remain a central focus of our efforts. This is “the commons” of our movement for which we need deep, equitable, and inclusive representation in matters that effect our lives. Nihil de nobis, sine nobis is Latin for NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US and has been a rallying cry for democracy and disenfranchised groups for over 500 years. It means that no policy should be decided without the full and direct participation of those affected by that policy. We must ensure that our voices are included in all systems addressing alcohol- and other drug-related problems.”

Recovery community organizations at the state and local levels are vital to the kinds of systems changes we need. We expand recovery capital, not just on the individual level where most of our care systems are beginning to understand the role and function of recovery management, but on the systems level in the community level as well. These functions are critically needed and a foundational element of statewide recovery community organizations, yet they are not being systemically funded at a time when such infrastructure development has never been more vital. This must change.

We are not experiencing anything close to the level of inclusion we need to move our systems beyond the kinds of exclusionary policies and barriers that have plagued it over the last 50 years. No system can change without meaningful inclusion of the impacted community, including persons in recovery and recovery community organizations. Exclusion equals discrimination, there is no way to sugar coat that. The recovery movement came from the recovery community and occurred because are systems were not meeting the needs of persons with addictions. We have not made enough progress on those goals. We need to keep our eye on the prize and insist that recovery community organizations at the state and local levels are funded in stable and equitable ways that allow them to do this vital work.

Nihil de nobis, sine nobis – Latin for NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT meaning that no policy should be decided without the full and equitable participation of those affected by that policy. We must ensure that our voices are included in all systems addressing alcohol- and other drug-related problems. Anything less is unacceptable.

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