Recovery Housing Program For Rural Areas Launched By USDA, HHS

By Paul Gaita 02/21/19

"The opioid crisis has hit rural communities hard, and we need to leverage all possible partnerships to support these communities," said an HHS official.

man holding house that represent new recovery housing program

A new federal program will allow nonprofit organizations to purchase homes in rural communities for use as transitional housing for individuals in recovery from substance use disorder.

The initiative is a joint effort between the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and aims to address the national opioid crisis by providing greater access and support to rural areas, which have shouldered a substantial portion of the epidemic's overdose and death tolls.

USDA Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development, Anne Hazlett, said in a press release that the program is part of President Donald Trump's policy to address opioid dependency, which he declared a national public health emergency in late 2017.

Through coordinated efforts between the USDA's Rural Development and HHS's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), non-profit organizations will be able to purchase USDA's Real Estate Owned (REO) single-family housing properties in rural communities at a discounted price for use as housing, treatment, job training and other services for individuals in recovery for substance abuse issues.

The initiative extends the two organizations' collaborative efforts, which were launched in 2018, when SAMHSA supplemented USDA Cooperative Extension grants to help communities in the fight against opioid abuse.

"We know that the opioid crisis has hit rural communities hard, and we need to leverage all possible partnerships to support these communities," said Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, HHS Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use. "Housing plays a vital part in the recovery process for those living with opioid use disorders."

The opioid crisis has cut a particularly devastating path through rural communities in America. As the National Rural Health Association (NRHA) noted, only 20% of the U.S population lives in areas designated as rural communities, but the rate of opioid-related overdose deaths in such locations is 45% higher than in metro counties.

Studies have found that the rate of babies born with opioid withdrawal symptoms and teens who use opioids is much higher in rural communities.

Adding to the problem is a lack of health care facilities—83 rural hospitals have closed since 2010—and access to mental health and substance treatment facilities. According to the NRHA, in 55% of all American counties, most of which are considered rural, there are no psychologists, psychiatrists or social workers.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.