Whitesburg KY
Mostly clear
Mostly clear

UNITE is losing much funding

In addition to a two-thirds cut in the main federal grant program for anti-drug efforts by local police, “a task force that has arrested more than 2,400 drug suspects in eastern Kentucky the past five years and provided money for drug treatment and education” has seen its federal funding slashed by more than half, reports the Lexington Herald Leader.

Operation UNITE (Unlawful Narcotics Investigations, Treatment and Education) has laid off 10 police officers and two other workers, “and could face a cut in a counseling program if it doesn’t come up with more money,” write Bill Estep and Cassondra Kirby, the paper’s bureau reporters in Southern and Eastern Kentucky, respectively.

The program was started by 5th District U.S. Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers in 2003, when he and his fellow Republicans controlled the House and he was an appropriations subcommittee chairman. “Rogers … got $8 million earmarked for UNITE each year of its first three years and then upped that to $9.1 million in 2006-07,” the Herald-Leader reports. “However, UNITE got nothing for 2007 after Democrats took control of Congress and suspended earmarks while tinkering with the system. UNITE got through 2007 without major problems because it had some carryover money, but in the budget President Bush signed last month, UNITE received only about $4 million.”

Because appropriators often engage in mutual back-scratching, it’s often said that Congress has three parties – Democrats, Republicans and Appropriators – and Rogers spokesman Jim Pettit told the newspaper that the cuts were unrelated to the change in party control. “It’s a different fiscal reality this year and part of it has to do with a budget deficit,” he said, noting that UNITE is still one of the largest line items in the Justice Department budget.

Karen Engle, UNITE president and CEO, said UNITE now has 23 police officers, down from 40 officers at its peak. Engle also vowed that UNITE would continue its core mission. The organization has applied for grants and is looking at other potential money sources, including corporate sponsorships.

“We’re not going away,” Engle vowed. “We have tightened our belts and restructured the organization so that UNITE can fight the drug scourge over the long haul.”

In addition to laying off employees, UNITE has changed its guidelines so fewer people will qualify for treatment vouchers and cut the grants available to community coalitions for projects from $10,000 every six months to $5,000.

UNITE has a contract to provide school drug counselors through June. The agency has applied for a grant to continue the program and hopes the state will help, but if new money doesn’t come through, UNITE has no funding for the counselors next school year, Engle said.

Source: Instutite for Community Journalism and Rural Initiatives.

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