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After month-long pause, DSAMH to resume recovery support scholarship program at limited scale

A recovery house in Dover.
Paul Kiefer
Delaware Public Media
A Kent County recovery house.

In late April, Delaware’s Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health announced that it had exhausted funding for its Recovery Support Scholarship program, which offered financial assistance to Delawareans recovering from substance use disorders.

Later this month, the agency will relaunch a scaled-back version of the program will resume this month, but some advocates are uncertain why the state couldn't leverage other opioid-related funding sources to keep the program running uninterrupted.

DSAMH first launched the scholarship program in March 2021, relying on funding from Delaware's Opioid Impact Fee revenue. The scholarships covered five basic expenses – including housing, transportation and legal services – and offer some stability to people navigating the recovery process. In the past two years, DSAMH approved nearly 3,400 scholarships totaling more than $2.6 million; housing assistance made up the largest share of those expenses.

The Division broke the news that the program's funding had run dry to its community partners on April 27; in that announcement, DSAMH said it hoped to secure funding to restore the program by July.

Recent state and federal attention toward Delaware's opioid crisis have left the state with millions of dollars available to support recovery housing, case management and transportation programs for people recovering from substance use disorders. But some of that funding — namely grants from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — comes with federal spending guidelines. According to DSAMH, those guidelines have prevented Delaware from redirecting federal dollars to maintain the recovery scholarship program.

To some of DSAMH's community partners, the absence of emergency funding for the scholarship program was baffling. ATaCK Addiction board member Dave Humes, whose organization previously referred between twenty and thirty people per week to the scholarship program for assistance, says that from the outside, it appears that Delaware has the resources to expand, not contract, its offerings for people in recovery.

“All of the sudden, we hear that we’re running out of money," he said. "How can we be running out of money when we’ve become so flush? We have opioid impact fee money, we have settlement money.”

Within days of the announcement, aTaCK Addiction's board voted to make $5,000 available for housing assistance as a stopgap measure, though Humes says those dollars do not stretch far given both the demand for assistance and the cost of housing.

Meanwhile, DSAMH Director Joanna Champney says her division has secured a $100,00 grant from Delaware's opioid settlement fund — which currently holds $12.5 million — to provide limited housing assistance, including a month's rent at a federally certified sober living house or seven days in a motel. The grant cannot cover many expenses previously addressed by the scholarship, including groceries and transportation.

Scholarship requests will be eligible for review on a first-come, first-served basis until funds expire," said Champney. "Only one scholarship will be approved per client."

DSAMH has also applied for a larger grant from the opioid settlement fund to restore the scholarship program to its original scope, though Champney notes that her agency isn't guaranteed to receive the grant.

"If additional funds are not identified, the Division will be unable to continue the program," she added.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.