Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pushes bill to help recovering addicts return to work

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentucky U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell is pushing a bill designed to address one aspect of the opioid crisis – the impact on America’s workforce.

The Senate Majority Leader, has introduced the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery through Effective Employment and Reentry or CAREER Act. McConnell said the bill will deal with both the economic and human cost of the opioid crisis.

“One study traced roughly 25 percent of the decline in workforce participation between 1999 and 2015 to the opioid crisis,” said McConnell on the Senate floor. “That amounts to one million missing workers.”

Brandy Lee was one of those missing workers. But she has come a long way from the dark days of her drug addiction.

“It was bad. I've lost everything. I've lost children, homes, and cars. I've lost everything,” she told WDRB News.

Now Lee is slowly getting her life back. She graduated from a treatment program run by Volunteers of America and, two weeks ago, started a new job here at Louisville’s Cafe Restaurant.

“It's awesome because I've being given a second chance,” said Lee. “A lot of employers don't do that.”

McConnell said the CAREER Act is one step that will lead to more success stories like Lee's.

“Law enforcement is important. But the most important thing is trying to get people who are addicted the opportunity to get back to work,” McConnell told reporters during a Louisville news conference.

The CAREER Act would provide up to $1 billion to fund both career training and transitional housing. Both are key to successful recovery.

“What the senator has put together is a comprehensive solution that enables people to more rapidly get back into the workforce so that they can be contributing members of our community,” said Jennifer Hancock, president and CEO of Volunteers of America.

The pilot program would be state-based and designed to encourage local businesses and treatment groups to form partnerships to help recovering addicts find and maintain employment. The CAREER Act has the backing of the business, which is struggling to find qualified workers.

“We have very low unemployment right now, and we need everybody, including those who are struggling with addiction, back in the workforce,” said Kent Oyler of Greater Louisville, Inc., the Louisville Chamber of Commerce.

The Sal Rubino, the owner of the Cafe works with local treatment programs and intentionally hires people like Lee who recovering from addiction. He said most have been good workers, and the CAREER Act will only help smooth the transition from drugs to a job.

“We will continue to do what we do with or without those funds or resources because it's good for us. But having those funds available can only make it better,” Rubino told WDRB.

Brandy said her job is more than just a paycheck. It is hope.

“I'm feeling pretty good. Things are looking up.”

McConnell said the CAREER Act will likely be part of a package of bills this session addressing the opioid crisis.

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