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February 24, 2022 | Volume 26, No. 2| Archives
While COVID Wanes (Again), Harm Reduction Faces Unexpected Setback
In This Issue:
  • Advocacy Opportunity on Harm Reduction
  • Substance Use/Harm Reduction in the News
  • FY2022 Budget
  • Build Back Better Legislation
  • U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness
  • Additional COVID-19 Relief Funding
  • Extended Public Health Emergency Set to Expire
  • WARNING: Medicaid Re-determinations
  • HRSA Issues Telehealth Funding
  • HUD Issues New Point in Time Count
  • Racism & Reparations
  • Healthcare NOW’s Single Payer Conference
  • What We’re Reading
As described in the section below, the Administration needs to maintain strong support for harm reduction, especially in the face of predictable attacks. National advocates have drafted a letter to the Administration expressing our dismay and asking them to remove policy and regularly barriers, as well as make further investments in harm reduction.
A letter asking for organizational endorsements is now open; however, we need your signature by Friday, February 25, at 12:00 noon ET in order to convey this message to the White House in time for the State of the Union address on Tuesday next week.
Substance Use/Harm Reduction in the News
No, the Biden Administration is not spending $30 million on “crack pipes.” In response to an inflammatory (and racist) article which then stoked outrageous claims from conservative members of Congress, HHS released a statement about not allowing federal funding to be used to purchase smoking pipes in harm reduction smoking kits. This all stems from a SAMHSA $30 million grant opportunity for states to apply for harm reduction program funds. Refusing to be assured, conservatives have introduced a new bill—the ‘Preventing Illicit Paraphernalia for Exchange Systems (PIPES) Act,’ which would prohibit federal funds being used for a wide range of harm reduction supplies. Others have threatened to hold up the entire federal budget process over this issue.
This is cause for real concern. The Administration professed its strong commitment to harm reduction just last October—making the announcement at a press conference at the Baltimore HCH program, no less. Yet in the face of all-too-predictable, ill-informed, and hateful rhetoric, it took less than 48 hours for the Administration to issue a statement prohibiting use of funds for purchasing smoking pipes. How will the Administration respond to further assaults on harm reduction approaches? Will they stand up for overdose prevention sites (which they have yet to support)? Will they defend harm reduction programs—and by extension, people who use drugs? Will they stand by their commitment to eradicate stigma? NHCHC is working in coalition with others to respond to the Administration to get greater insight and press for more constructive responses in the future.
Related Reading: The U.S. Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking issues its final report showing overdose deaths costs over $1 trillion annually. See a number of news reports for more information. Additionally, the Department of Justice signals it may allow safe injection sites. Finally, a new research report looks at drug overdoses during COVID-19 among people who are homeless.

Congress: Updates

FY2022 Budget
The Senate passed a continuing resolution until March 11 to allow more time for negotiations.

Build Back Better Legislation
As we said last month, the Senate was supposed to vote before the end of 2021 on the Build Back Better Act, H.R. 5376 (see our fact sheet) -- but it might be April or even May before it gets moving again due to other priorities and events happening (potential war in Ukraine, SCOTUS nomination, etc.).
TAKE ACTION: The Senate needs to pass the bill with the health care and housing provisions intact. Find your U.S. Senators' contact information and send their office an email or voice message telling them to pass the Build Back Better Act without any further cuts to programs or funding. Remind them that people experiencing homelessness continue to die on the streets due to the inability to access housing and health care.

Biden Administration: Updates

U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness
Jeff Olivet has been named as the new executive director of the USICH, and we are heartened to see someone with Jeff’s experience, values and vision be named to this pivotal role. Check out the USICH announcement and NHCHC’s statement about the appointment. Jeff has already released his vision for preventing and ending homelessness, which illustrates the comprehensive view he brings to this work.
We look forward to working with you and your team at USICH, Jeff!
The USICH has also released a new resource, Federal Health and Social Service Programs That Support People Experiencing Homelessness, which seeks to help state and local leaders identify and access federal non-emergency health and social service programs so they can use multiple streams of funding for holistic supportive services that meet the short- and long-term needs of people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
 Additional COVID-19 Relief Funding
The White House is asking Congress to allocate $30 billion in additional resources for more vaccines and treatments, testing, care for those uninsured, and preparing for future variants. In case you missed it: We’ve summarized the newest issues and resources in our COVID-19 Flash Blasts from February 9 and February 23. Starting next month, the COVID-19 newsletter will be published monthly -- sign up here to get them directly!
Extended Public Health Emergency Set to Expire
The federal public health emergency declaration has been extended once again -- until April 16. We do not know if it will be extended further. WARNING: Once the emergency ends, states will start the process for re-determining Medicaid eligibility for all enrollees. While states have a great deal of flexibility on how they proceed with renewing eligibility, it is all-too-predictable that people experiencing homelessness will be especially vulnerable to losing coverage. At the same time, we also know that there are many who are currently eligible for Medicaid, but unenrolled
Related Reading:
WARNING: Medicaid Re-Determinations
Contact your state Medicaid officials to ensure they are using as many electronic verification measures as possible to renew coverage without needing to contact Medicaid enrollees. It is especially important that states not simply rely on “the letter,” which invariably is not received or returned within a short time period.
HRSA Issues Telehealth Funding
Nearly $55 million was awarded to 29 health centers to increase health care access and quality for underserved populations through virtual care such as telehealth.
HUD Issues New Point-in-Time Count
The 2021 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report (AHAR) has been released, showing a point-in-time estimate of sheltered homelessness. Because of ongoing COVID 19 precautions and realities, many communities did not complete a PIT count last year, which exacerbates the existing limitations to the PIT methodology. In fact, the USICH released a blog post on the findings -- and limitations -- to this process.
Related Reading:
Racism & Reparations
H.R. 40 would create a Commission to study the legacy of enslavement and develop reparations proposals. This month, more than 350 groups (including NHCHC) signed a letter urging the House leadership to support H.R. 40 and move quickly to bring the bill to a full vote on the House floor.
TAKE ACTION: Fire up your social media and lend your voice calling for a full vote on H.R. 40. Use the hashtags #JusticeCantWait #HR40Now #ReparationsNow @SpeakerPelosi @LeaderHoyer @WhipClyburn
Healthcare NOW's Single Payer Conference!
Join more than 1,000 activists from around the country for a full week of inspiration and strategy to win Medicare for All! The virtual conference itself will take place during the weekend of April 2-3. During the preceding week, each evening HCN will release pre-recorded panel discussions and presentations addressing key issues facing our movement, which you can watch any time. See HCN’s website for more information! 
What We're Reading
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Barbara DiPietro
Senior Director of Policy
National HCH Council
Baltimore, MD
(443) 703-1346 
This publication and all HCH advocacy are funded by dues from Organizational Members of the Council and by private donations. Consider joining the Council to support this work.
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