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Ambassador Brief: February 2015

IN THIS ISSUE:

FROM CHUCK’S CHAIR

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Dear National Council Ambassadors,

I’ve got sequestration on my mind… and not because I’ve been reading the dictionary lately.

In case you missed the big debt limit debate in 2011, sequestration refers to automatic, across-the-board cuts designed to drastically shrink federal spending each year. The result: steep reductions to programs that support our most vulnerable citizens.

A 2013 budget deal temporarily averted the worst of these cuts, but now sequestration is back in full force. That means that as Congress assembles its 2016 appropriations bills, lawmakers will be working within spending limits that are some of the lowest we’ve seen in generations.

As Ambassadors, your relationships with your Members of Congress truly make a difference during appropriation season! With tough budget decisions on all sides, now is when we need strong legislative champions in the room.

Thank you for all that you do to cultivate those essential congressional champions.

Sincerely,

Chuck Ingoglia
Senior Vice President, Public Policy and Practice Improvement


UPCOMING ACTIVITIES

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Register for National Council Conference 2015

When: Right Now
Where:  Register here

If you haven’t already registered for NATCON 2015, April 20-22 in Orlando, do it today! The National Council is looking to celebrate you and provide you with advocacy-focused workshops, roundtable discussions and star-studded events. Register today!

 

Ambassador Talking Points: Monthly Toolkit for Meeting with your Elected Officials

When: February 25, 2015
Where: Your Inbox

For February, the Ambassador Talking Points will provide you with a deep-dive on preserving patient access to potentially lifesaving drugs under Medicare’s Prescription Drug benefit. Stay tuned!


AMBASSADOR SPOTLIGHT

 

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Congratulations to this month’s outstanding Ambassador, Alisa Bernard!

Where: Washington, D.C.

What: As Director of Operations for the International Bipolar Foundation, Alisa knows the value of collaborative advocacy. Forging relationships with legislators and staff is not going to happen overnight, and it requires a strong network working on multiple fronts. Last week, Alisa had a meeting with Rep. Darrell Issa’s Chief of Staff to discuss an anti-stigma campaign. Alisa followed up with the National Council, informing us of her meeting and now we are coordinating advocacy efforts to forge a relationship with one of most senior Representatives in Congress.

How you can do this too: Use these Ambassador Resources to reach out to your legislator ask to meet with them when they are home or invite them on site visit! Once you reach out, follow up with us and let us know! Contact us with anything you may need. We are here to help you be the best advocate you can be!

 


DISPATCH FROM CAPITOL HILL

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Love (and budget decisions) are in the air this February

It’s everyone’s favorite time of year: Valentine’s Day budget season! While some people are counting their pennies and saving up for the big date night with that special someone, Congress is counting its pennies (well, its Benjamins) and deciding how to spend them in 2016. The result makes our hearts flutter – and not in a good way. Here’s why.

This year, a 2013 budget deal that temporarily averted the steep cuts known as “sequestration” will end, meaning that lawmakers must produce a budget that stays within sharply defined limits.

What is sequestration? Sequestration refers to the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011. This law required Congress to cut spending below a certain threshold – or else all discretionary spending programs would be slashed by an equal amount to bring the top-line numbers in line with predetermined budget caps.

Why did they have to pick such an obscure word for it? Because here in DC, we’d never use simple language when an arcane legal term or confusing acronym would do.

What are these discretionary programs that will be cut under sequestration? Discretionary programs are those that must be funded by an act of Congress each year (think: health care initiatives such as those funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, health research, transportation, education, law enforcement, military and defense spending, and much more). The sequestration cuts are split equally between defense and non-defense spending and then applied across all programs.

What’s not at risk under sequestration? Mandatory (also known as entitlement) programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security.

Why is this issue emerging now? Didn’t you say it’s been in effect since 2011? A bipartisan budget deal in 2013 lifted the cuts for two years, but now that deal has expired and sequestration is set to return in full force. While sequestration was originally designed to be politically unpalatable (so as to force lawmakers into cutting a mutually agreeable spending deal), the National Council is hearing from sources on the Hill that some appropriators are becoming more comfortable with the cuts remaining in place, allowing them to pursue a strategy of reprioritizing and shifting funding from programs of lesser to greater importance.

What would the impact be? According to the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the federal spending caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act will lead to a decline in non-defense discretionary spending over the next decade as a share of the economy. In fact, such spending would fall to historic lows as a percentage of gross domestic product. Additional sequestration cuts, should they be required, would result in an even greater decline.

For members of the National Council, the agency most at-risk from budget caps and sequestration (and most likely to benefit from removal of the caps and the threat of sequestration) is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Programs at risk include funding for Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant, the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, Primary-Behavioral Health Care Integration, and Mental Health First Aid, among many others.

President Obama’s budget, released on February 2, 2015, lifts the spending caps and restores more than $70 billion in sequestration cuts. But his proposals were met with a collective “meh” from the Republican-controlled Congress, which plans to use the budget process to advance its own priorities. It remains to be seen whether appropriators will reach another sequestration deal or whether the cuts will remain in place, sharply limiting available funding for important mental health and addiction priorities. The National Council will keep you informed about opportunities to take action to speak up for mental health in the budget. Stay tuned to our action alerts, the Ambassador Brief, and the monthly Ambassador Talking Points Toolkit.


STATE OF PLAY

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Excellence in Mental Health Act. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released draft criteria for Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs) last week. These criteria will determine eligibility for organizations to participate in demonstration programs under the Excellence in Mental Health Act. The National Council has many concerns with the draft criteria and is communicating those concerns to SAMHSA. Stay tuned for more in Capitol Connector.

2016 Budget Proposal. Last week, President Obama released his budget proposal for fiscal year 2016, proposing a $3.7 billion budget for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration – more than $44 million increase from 2015 funding levels. Click here for a summary of increases and decreases to major addiction and mental health programs.

Mental Health First Aid. The President’s budget proposed $4 million in new funding for Veterans Mental Health First Aid. This is a new initiative to provide information and support to veterans and family members affected by mental illness and addictions. Mental Health First Aid received level funding, $15 million, under the proposed budget as a part of the President’s Now is the Time initiative. For more information on Mental Health First Aid legislation, check our last month’s Ambassador Talking Points!


ADVICE AND COUNSEL

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Strike while the iron is hot: Ambassador Talking Points

Last month, you got your first installment of the Ambassador Talking Points: A Toolkit for Meeting with Your Elected Officials. This toolkit gives you the information you need to talk to your legislators about pressing policy issues on Capitol Hill: background on why the issue is important, talking points to make your case and a fact sheet to leave behind. With this, you may just be unstoppable!

The Ambassador Talking Points is meant to help your advocacy be timely and effective. We understand how hectic your work schedules are and want to help you be the best Ambassador you can be. This timely and concise information is designed to be accessible and actionable for you, leaving you time to build strong, meaningful relationships with your elected officials and their staff.

Of course, you can discuss whatever topics you like when you schedule your meetings with your elected officials – but if you need a little inspiration, we hope you find Ambassador Talking Points a useful tool as you continue to build your relationship with Members of Congress and their staff. Don’t forget: National Council Ambassadors have agreed to meet with legislators and/or staff at least three times per year. Get started today.


BRIEFLY NOTED

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Here are a few thought-provoking articles and resources that we’ve come across recently.  Happy reading!

Confessions of a congressman: Get the inside scoop on what Congress thinks of Congress. Vox got a Member of Congress to share some secrets from the inside. “The point is to get us to make sausage again. But for that to happen, the people have to rise up and demand better,” said the member. Read more.

What makes a successful visit? If you come to Washington, D.C. to meet with your member of Congress, you have to ensure you are making the most of it. Roll Call discusses five helpful suggestions for making the most out of your next visit to the nation’s capital. Read more.