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Grassley’s bill to aid meth-affected families is laudable

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JULY 01, 2011 7:20 AM

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Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, has long been a vocal supporter of foster-child services. Mix that theme with his fervent support for the war on methamphetamines, and there’s a potent legislative mixture coming out of Washington.

Last week, Grassley introduced legislation that would reauthorize grants providing funding for a variety of social initiatives related to children affected by substance abuse, grants that he originally helped craft in 2006. Among the provisions included in the bill are funding for foster-youth services and long-term drug-abuse treatment for parents struggling with addiction. While the Partners for Stable Families and Foster Youth Affected by Methamphetamine or Other Substance Abuse Act may be a mouthful, the intentions of the bill are solid, and the bill provides a substantial contribution to the social welfare of this nation.

Perhaps most visibly, the bill provides funding for foster programs that help children who suffer as a result of their parents’ chemical addictions. Equally important, though, the bill attempts to rectify the underlying problems addiction causes by addressing and treating those suffering. By providing these services, the intention is that children put into foster care may one day be reunited with their rehabilitated family members.

Though bills that advocate children’s well-being are usually rewarding for politicians, the current climate of budgetary affairs in Washington presents a much more hostile environment than in years past. In many cases, it seems members of Congress are eager to cut funding for any legislation providing services for those less fortunate.

Despite the necessary fiscal restraint, Grassley’s bill is a reasonable cost to expend on a national level. At $40 million annually, the grants will no doubt anger Tea Partiers, but the potential for success far outweigh any risks. A 1994 report by the General Accounting Office found that foster services and treatment related to substance abuse represented a significant hidden cost to state and federal agencies; it’s unlikely that this has changed. A chance to minimize these costs by means of a proactive response, then, seems quite acceptable.

Interestingly, though the bill provides foster-care and treatment services for a multitude of substances, special attention is brought to the problems caused by methamphetamine, a theme prominently on display in the bill’s title. While this might be viewed as a slight nod to Iowa’s past trouble with controlling meth abuse, Grassley justifies the emphasis by citing a 2005 RAND Corporation study that determined more than 300,000 children had entered foster-care because of the substance.

Linda Spears, the vice president of policy and public affairs at the Child Welfare League of America, told the DI Editorial Board on Wednesday that although she believes meth abuse isn’t a pervasive issue, it “remains an incredibly big problem in some communities.”

“Each community has its own substance-abuse issue,” she said. She also acknowledged that while most child-welfare agencies don’t consider meth-related referrals an expanding problem, the drug’s use is still growing in some communities and rural areas.

Grassley’s bill takes an admirable stance toward the drug problem: Instead of further criminalizing addicts and punishing drug users and their families, the bill seeks to make lives easier and facilitate the recovery of those afflicted by drug abuse. Not all of Grassley’s anti-drug legislation has taken this tack; other bills have increased penalties or expanded the criminalization of intoxicating substances. But this is one piece of legislation with a positive approach, not a negative one, and one that addresses drug abuse without further marginalizing affected populations.

Earlier this month, Grassley was named a “Defender of Children” by the First Focus Campaign for Children, an award given annually to members of Congress who actively work to promote the interests of youth. The occasion marked the second-straight year Grassley has received the award. And in the weeks since, he has wasted no time in attempting to maintain that title.

Grassley’s bill contributes to the social well-being of America’s future. By maintaining funding for programs that encourage the reunification of families, he continues his legacy as a defender. And with a step in the right direction, his legislation provides hope that America is capable of progressive solutions.


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