The U.S. House of Representatives today overwhelmingly approved the Treating Barriers to Prosperity Act of 2018 (H.R. 5294), bipartisan legislation to ensure that a federal economic development program for the Appalachian region can be used to help address the opioid crisis, among the hardest hit by this national epidemic. The bill passed by voice vote.
H.R. 5294 was introduced by Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Subcommittee Chairman Lou Barletta (R-PA); Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Subcommittee Ranking Member Dina Titus (D-NV); and Congressman Hal Rogers (R-KY). The Subcommittee has jurisdiction over economic development programs, including the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC).
“To battle the opioid crisis, we must have a strong response that addresses not only access to treatment and prevention methods, but also the impact on economic development and labor force participation,” Chairman Barletta said. “The Treating Barriers to Prosperity Act will do just that by helping communities battling the opioid epidemic recover the lost potential for economic growth, while also giving a leg up to those struggling with addiction by breaking down barriers to employment. I want to thank Ranking Member Dina Titus and Representative Hal Rogers for working with me on this important legislation and my colleagues on the Committee for their support in getting it to the floor. There isn’t a community across our country that hasn’t been impacted by the opioid epidemic, and it is more important than ever for us to work across the aisle to find solutions.”
“The opioid crisis sweeping the Nation threatens the significant progress made by the ARC in addressing the persistent poverty and economic despair in Appalachia,” said Ranking Member Titus. “This bill clarifies and strengthens the ARC’s existing authority to address the impacts that the opioid epidemic has on the workforce in the region.”
“I commend Chairman Barletta for introducing this important measure, which will increase the number of tools for communities that have been devastated by this national crisis,” said Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA). “The opioid epidemic has hit close to home for many people in our home state of Pennsylvania and across Appalachia. Like much of the Transportation Committee’s work, this bill is the result of the bipartisan work of our members, and it will help communities fighting to lessen the impacts of opioid abuse.”
“While Congress still needs to address the underlying cause of the opioid epidemic across the Nation, including in Appalachia, this bill affirms the ARC’s current work to ensure the availability of a high performing, drug free workforce to attract economic development to Appalachia,” said Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR).
H.R. 5294 authorizes ARC funds to be used to relieve the human, social, and economic costs of opioid abuse. The ARC represents a federal-state-local partnership between the federal government and the 13 states in the region: Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.
According to 2015 data, the Appalachian region suffered a drug-related death rate 65 percent higher than the rest of the United States, and the vast majority of these deaths, about 69 percent, were caused by opioids. In 2016, 85 percent of overdoses in the state of Pennsylvania involved opioids.
Many of the casualties of this epidemic are people between the ages of 25 and 44, the backbone of a community’s workforce. As a result, an additional effect of this crisis has been to weaken businesses and local economies, exacerbating conditions that often contribute to opioid abuse and addiction. The White House Council of Economic Advisors estimated the national costs of the opioid epidemic at $504 billion, including lost economic opportunity and productivity.
H.R. 5294 will improve access for communities throughout the Appalachian region to ARC resources to help combat the opioid crisis and, specifically, its harmful impacts on economic development, job opportunities, and the people who make up the region’s workforce.
Specifically, the legislation clarifies ARC funds may be used to:
facilitate the regional sharing of best practices to reduce opioid abuse;
support programs designed to eliminate or reduce the harm to workers and to economic growth;
attract and retain health care services, businesses, and workers;
and develop relevant infrastructure, including broadband, to support telemedicine.