MANCHESTER, NH — On Friday, Democratic Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg unveiled his $100 billion plan to increase services to those with mental health and substance abuse issues and, that afternoon, he was talking about it to a standing-room-only crowd at the American Legion, Sweeney Post.
He said Washington’s response to the crisis that is afflicting cities and states across the country, including hard-hit New Hampshire, has been met with “silence, empty promises, and neglect. That will end when I am president,” he said to loud applause.
Buttigieg (pronounced “Boot Edge Edge” as seen on some T-shirts worn by supporters) said he was running for president because he had the sense of urgency that our country is running out of time. He said there is a lot of discussion about what’s going on at the White House.
He’s unsure what he is more worried about, “his being serious about buying Greenland,” which brought laughter from the crowd or “his joking about the Medal of Honor.”
What he does know, he said, is “we can’t go on like this.”
Buttigieg, 37, mayor of South Bend, Ind., said since he has been alive the country has been struggling to respond to issues that are now reaching the crisis level — endless wars, school shootings, climate change, the economy that isn’t working for most of us. If things don’t change, he said we are just a few years away from climate catastrophe, from the gun violence epidemic reaching new heights and losing the right to choose.
“We can summon the courage to take a break from the past and do something different,” he said. “I believe this is our best and perhaps last good shot and we’re not going to get there by promising to return back to normal. We’re going to get there by envisioning a new normal and making sure it’s better than the last.”
Under Buttigieg’s 10-year mental health plan, $10 billion a year in grants would be doled out to communities that would use the funds to find solutions that work for their residents. Funding would come from raising taxes on the wealthy.
Buttigieg said everyone in the room paid more taxes than Amazon. Valued at $800 billion dollars, the company paid zero taxes in 2019.
His plan is called “Healing and Belonging in America: A Plan to Improve Mental Health Care and Combat Addiction.” It calls for:
- Insurance plans to cover mental health and substance abuse treatment, the same as for any other health issue and penalizes companies that don’t;
- Universalizes access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and other addiction treatments;
- Lets communities most affected by mental illness and addiction address the problem in their own way through $10 billion annual grants over a 10-year period that addresses policies or program around prevention care integration and community;
- Decriminalizes addiction and mental illness and decreases the number of people incarcerated due to mental illness or substance use by 75 percent in the first term by decriminalizing all drug possession, expanding access to mental illness and addiction;
- Holds drug companies accountable for their role in exacerbating the opioid epidemic;
- Increases veteran engagement in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and enhances access to mental health and addiction treatment for veterans;
- Raises awareness of the pervasiveness of trauma and how fundamentally it affects health, and expands care that is trauma-informed;
- Combats the epidemic of social isolation and loneliness, which particularly affects young adults and older Americans.
Collectively, deaths due to drugs, alcohol, and suicide are characterized as “deaths of despair,” he said. It includes parents being laid off from the job they’ve had for decades and society’s inability to provide them with the opportunity to take care of their family. It is teenagers coping with childhood trauma or living in constant fear of hearing gunshots at school. It is older people whose aging friends don’t stop by as often, if at all, and a society’s inability to take appropriate care of its elders.
His campaign said his plan would prevent one million deaths of despair by 2028.
Buttigieg said what also has to be addressed is the stigma surrounding mental health and addiction. People need to talk about those issues, just as they talk about cancer, he said.
Waiting in line to hear “Mayor Pete,” were Brenda Whitmore and Jean Cummings, both of Strafford. Cummings, a Democrat, said she just wanted to learn what she could about him.
“I’m here because he’s smart and articulate, well-spoken. I’m just trying to get information,” said Whitmore, who is undeclared. She also is interested in Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren.
Eileen Gregoire of Raymond is in Buttigieg’s camp.
“I support him because everything that comes out of his mouth sounds true and on the level and he’s calm,” she said. “I love him.”
This is Buttigieg’s ninth trip to the First-in-the-Nation Primary state. After the American Legion visit, he continued campaigning in Merrimack, Nashua, Hancock and Cornish.
At 29, Buttigieg was elected mayor of South Bend in 2011 and was re-elected in 2015 with 80 percent o the vote.
He served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve and took unpaid seven-month leave during his mayoral term to deploy to Afghanistan. For his counterterrorism work, he earned the Joint Service Commendation Medal.
A Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and a graduate of Harvard University, Pete lives with his husband Chasten in the same South Bend neighborhood where he grew up, with their two rescue dogs, Truman and Buddy.