Including Strong Proposals to Improve Access to Substance Use Disorder Treatment Services

January 23, 2020: The Legal Action Center (LAC) commends Governor Andrew Cuomo and his administration for proposing a State budget to continue New York’s reforms to shift drug policy away from criminalization and towards a public health response. Amidst the ongoing overdose crisis, the Governor’s budget proposals to help ensure more New Yorkers can get life-saving addiction care are critically important. Paul N. Samuels, Director and President of LAC says. “The Legal Action Center applauds the Governor for proposals to protect consumers by holding insurers accountable when they violate existing parity laws, and by increasing funding for the State’s Community Health Access to Addiction and Mental Healthcare Project (CHAMP) to educate individuals, families, and health care providers on their legal rights to coverage, and help them to access treatment and services. The Governor’s focus on improving access to substance use disorder care and promoting health and justice equity throughout the State distinguishes New York as a model for the rest of the nation.”

Tracie Gardner, Vice President of Policy Advocacy at LAC adds, “We are also particularly pleased to see proposals aimed at expanding addiction treatment in hard to reach communities statewide and the push to finally legalize adult-use cannabis in the State in ways that will guard against harmful use by young people. LAC looks forward to working with the Governor and Legislature to enact and build upon these proposals, so that all New Yorkers can access the care, opportunities, and justice they deserve and need.”

Among the Governor’s FY 2021 Executive Budget proposals that LAC supports are the following:

  • Improving Access to Addiction and Mental Health Care: Enforcing Parity Compliance and Expanding the Substance Use Disorder and Mental Health Ombudsman Program
    • The Executive Budget includes the current $1.5 million for the Substance Use Disorder and Mental Health Ombudsman program – also known as the Community Health Access to Addiction and Mental Healthcare Project (CHAMP) – which helps individuals and their families navigate the behavioral health care system so they can more easily access all necessary care and services and get assistance when care is delayed or denied.
    • The budget also proposes to establish the Behavioral Health Parity Compliance Fund for the collection of penalties imposed on insurance carriers who violate New York’s Behavioral Health Parity laws, $1.5 million of which will be used to expand the Substance Use Disorder and Mental Health Ombudsman program; and
    • New state regulations to be released by October 2020 will help to strengthen compliance with the Behavioral Health Parity provisions set forth in the FY 2020 Enacted Budget.

Criminal Justice Reform

LAC, along with our colleagues in the field such as the Alternatives to Incarceration and Reentry Coalition and the Coalition for Reentry Advocates (CORA), have long-advocated for criminal justice reforms that support the successful reentry of individuals returning home from incarceration and that promote a more equitable system of justice overall.

  • Legalizing Adult-Use Cannabis Statewide

LAC supports the Governor’s call to legalize adult-use cannabis, as long as final legislation contains the following:

    • Building upon last year’s marijuana decriminalization bill, cannabis legalization efforts must include the automatic expungement of marijuana convictions to help address the harms that criminalization has caused to countless New Yorkers who have marijuana offenses on their records. The State must also provide automatic expungement of other convictions to ensure that New Yorkers who are eligible to clear their criminal records are able to move forward with their lives without having to navigate the administratively burdensome and complex process that is currently in place. As part of the Clean Slate NY Campaign, LAC is eager to work with policymakers to achieve this critical criminal justice reform in 2020.
    • As New York takes this important step of cannabis legalization, we must ensure that adequate supports are in place to prevent the marketing and sale of cannabis to youth, and that people who need treatment for marijuana addiction are able to access it quickly. You can read LAC’s full marijuana policy recommendations here.

We look forward to working with the Governor and Legislature in enacting these proposals –  as well as other important reforms such as additional funding to bring Alternative to Incarceration and Reentry programs to scale across the state, which should include pre-trial services to support the criminal justice reforms enacted last year to reduce incarceration. Together, we can help countless New Yorkers, their families, and our shared communities.


Established in 1973, the Legal Action Center is the only non-profit law and policy organization in the United States whose sole mission is to fight discrimination against people with histories of addiction, HIV, or criminal records, and to advocate for sound public policies in these areas.

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