Connecticut’s Blumenthal: Cuts to treatment in Trump budget are ‘cruel and craven’

TORRINGTON >> U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and local service providers Monday decried the budget proposed by President Donald Trump, focusing on the reduction of Medicaid funding for people who stand to lose access to health care.

The proposal put forward by the Trump administration would reduce Medicaid funding by $1.4 trillion, Blumenthal said during an event Monday morning at the McCall Center for Behavioral Health in Torrington, and have a deleterious effect on agencies providing substance abuse treatment, including the National Institute for Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The budget cuts that are contemplated by President Trump are cruel and craven,” said Blumenthal. “All really portend great damage to our nation.”

The proposal, Blumenthal noted, comes at a time when new drugs are becoming more common in Connecticut towns and cities, including counterfeit oxycontin and carfentanil, an elephant tranquilizer 10,000 times stronger than morphine.

“We owe it to you, and to our country, that we will provide the resources necessary so (those in need) can continue to seek treatment and turn their lives around,” said Blumenthal.

On a local level, Tom Narducci, a social worker with the Charlotte Hungerford Hospital Center for Youth and Families, said approximately 168 children seeking mental health treatment at the Torrington institution would be left without insurance if the cuts to Medicaid funding were to move forward.

“(The budget) translates into tens of thousands of kids nationwide who would not have access to mental health treatment,” said Narducci. “It translates into thousands, tens of thousands, of kids who will suffer needlessly throughout their lives because we did not provide life-changing mental health treatment when they were young.”

Approximately 1,200 children seek aid at the center each year, according to Narducci, with 70 percent of these young people receiving insurance through Medicaid.

“The budget would be deliberately neglecting the mental health and physical needs of these 168 children. In Connecticut, neglecting the needs of children is also known as child abuse, which is against the law,” said Narducci. “But here we are, as some in Washington are proposing a budget that does just that.”

The budget would make a negative long-term impact, and ultimately require a greater financial commitment, as children without access to aid grow up, and deal with the consequences of mental health concerns, Narducci said, including an increased risk of unemployment, homelessness, incarceration, domestic violence and child abuse.

“Childhood access to quality mental health care takes the pain and the hurt away, and decreases depression and anxiety — that allows for children to grow into healthy adults who will contribute to their families and community for decades to come,” said Narducci.

A budget, McCall Center director Maria Coutant Skinner noted, demonstrates priorities. For example, in her household, the top priority is providing for the education of her daughters, Emma and Abigail.

“When I look at our president’s budget, the priorities don’t line up with what I think American families want and need,” said Coutant Skinner.

She urged residents to fight against the budget, despite the temptation to avoid hearing about the apparent barrage of unpleasant news.

“The temptation is to just put on Netflix and not think about it, and just hide and go under the covers metaphorically,” said Coutant Skinner. “But we can’t afford to. It’s too important, and I think we all need to pay attention.”

She praised her staff and local partners, but said the battle against addiction continued to grow more difficult as fentanyl and carfentanil use becomes more common.

“We have an amazing network of people who are compassionate and skilled and bright and dedicated, and we are doing everything in our power in this fight against this epidemic,” said Coutant Skinner. “We are putting every resource we know ... into this, and it just keeps getting harder. I hate to say that — I’m an unrepenting optimist — but it’s hard, and it’s getting harder.”

Blumenthal, in response to questions, said that the cuts to addiction services had met with “deep dismay and disappointment” from both Republicans and Democrats, as addiction affects people across the nation.

“The drug abuse epidemic is not a red or blue or partisan issue, nor should it be,” said Blumenthal.

Other programs, including early childhood education and cancer research, would also be hurt by the proposal, he said, and lessen domestic national security.

Blumenthal said he would carry the experience of coming to the McCall Center away with him as he returned to the Senate.

“I really appreciate all that you are doing,” said Blumenthal. “I take inspiration when I come here.”

Blumenthal previously came to Torrington in March to note his opposition to the budget, and discuss its potential impact on Meals on Wheels programs in the state.