We enter the New Year with startling economic developments that threaten the security of residents throughout the country, including right here in Maryland: soaring levels of unemployment, high rates of foreclosure, and dramatic losses in savings and investments. The scope of the recession—and the time and reinvestment required to recover from it—oddly gives us the freedom to transcend normal constraints in considering what’s up for change.
As President-elect Obama presents his proposed $775 billion recovery package, two things become clear. First, we must immediately stop spending public monies on expensive programs and practices that don’t work, such as the incarceration of people who commit low-level crimes because they are drug dependent. Second, because the stakes are now so high, we must play out policy choices and choose to spend wisely in the short term to avoid expensive public “fixes” in the future. For example, as we know that addiction treatment works but is not available to all who need it, we must increase public funding for treatment and ensure that public (e.g., Medicaid) and private insurance covers it. The math is clear: paying for expanded addiction treatment is a lot less expensive than the overuse of hospital emergency rooms, the cycle of arrest, prosecution and incarceration, the care of HIV transmission, and the foster care and support services required by children of addicted parents.
Big problems give us the chance to embrace big solutions right here in Maryland.
Let’s do the math—counting all of the costs of the status quo—and find the courage to endorse solutions that re-envision how we connect residents of this great state to opportunity. We can’t let the web of institutions and policies we’ve dragged into the 21st century block our vision at this historic moment for change. With few other rational options before us, we have, at long last, the collective will to use public monies differently. By thinking boldly here in Maryland, as well as in Washington, we can redefine the common good and champion those investments that, we know from experience, are most likely to support good health, innovation, prosperity and security for all of our residents.