As Prepared For Delivery:
Good afternoon, NLC! Thank you, Mayor Williams, for that introduction. It’s good to be with so many dedicated municipal leaders. Actually, after the last two years, it’s good to be anywhere that’s not in front of a Zoom screen, don’t you think?
The simple fact that we’re here in person is a key indication, as President Biden will remind us in just a bit, that we’re building a better America. While we continue to face real challenges—from Russian aggression to inflation—as the President said in his State of the Union address, “We are stronger today than we were a year ago. And we will be stronger a year from now than we are today.” And, in so many ways, your communities have led the charge.
I have the privilege of driving the President’s domestic policy agenda in the White House and across the federal government, from health care to economic mobility to rural and urban policy. So, today, I want to highlight the work we’ve been doing together to tackle three urgent and at times interconnected challenges—rising gun crime, our mental health crisis, and the opioid epidemic.
When it comes to keeping our communities safe, we’re working to build trust between law enforcement and the communities they’re sworn to serve—because we should not have to choose between public safety and public trust. Last June, the President laid out his comprehensive strategy to tackle gun crime and help make your communities safer. We’re reining in the proliferation of “ghost guns.” We’re expanding employment opportunities and after-school and summer programming. We’re helping formerly incarcerated individuals successfully reenter their communities. And, we’re investing in two key strategies that we know work—community policing and community violence interventions.
And, we’re just getting started. The bipartisan funding agreement just enacted by Congress invests nearly $4 billion for state and local law enforcement and crime prevention programs—a 15 percent increase from last year. And, President Biden continues to press for a historic $5 billion in evidence-based, community violence intervention.
Additionally, cities across the country are already leveraging hundreds of billions in American Rescue Plan dollars to reduce gun crime. Here in Washington D.C., the city has deployed 50 new violence interrupters in two dozen neighborhoods. LA County and Milwaukee are prioritizing job training and employment for young people. Tulsa is providing $3,000 stipends to hire more police officers. Because, as President Biden has made clear, the way to tackle violent crime isn’t to defund the police, it’s to fund accountable police with the resources and training they need to protect our communities.
And, as we near the summer when gun crime typically increases, I’d like to make an urgent plea: if you’ve already committed ARP funding to reduce gun crime, consider doubling down. If you haven’t yet, now is the time. And, don’t just commit funding, deploy those dollars swiftly—before the summer. We can save lives right now—so let’s do it.
A second area of top priority is our mental health crisis. Two out of five adults report symptoms of anxiety or depression, and one in three high schoolers say they’ve experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness. This is unprecedented. That’s why we’ve dedicated $5.5 billion over the last year—the most federal funding in history—to address mental health and substance use. President Biden, as part of our Unity Agenda, called for a major transformation in how the nation approaches mental health. That means dramatically expanding our mental health workforce and system capacity, like bringing more and more diverse providers into behavioral health, and launching the 9-8-8 crisis response line. It means connecting more people to care, from expanding telehealth to improving insurance coverage for mental health. And, it means creating healthy environments, including instituting stronger protections for young people online.
Here again, our cities are leading the way. For instance, Columbus, Ohio, has leveraged ARP and other relief funds to hire an additional 28 school counselors, with plans for each school in the district to have a full-time counselor. Just think what that might mean to a student coping with the upheaval of the past several years. Someone to talk to about their academic and social struggles. Perhaps a shoulder to lean on while grieving a lost family member. For so many young people, this support is a game-changer. For some, it could be a lifesaver. So, let’s make these investments in our kids’ health and wellbeing.
Finally, and relatedly, we’re working to address the devastating opioid epidemic that steals an American life every seven minutes. This is a public health crisis, demanding a public health response. And, it requires a unified response. All of our communities have been touched by the pain of overdose and addiction, and all of us must be part of the solution.
That’s why President Biden also made addressing this epidemic part of his Unity Agenda, and why the bipartisan funding agreement Congress just passed will empower communities like yours to meet this epidemic head-on. We’re investing in prevention, by funding coalitions to build Drug Free Communities from Miami, Florida to Sitka, Alaska. We’re prioritizing harm reduction, meaning a responder on a college campus in Santa Barbara can access naloxone and get trained in using it to reverse an overdose. We’re removing outdated barriers to treatment, to make it easier for a primary care doctor in Sioux City to prescribe lifesaving medication to her patients struggling with opioid addiction. And, we’re working to reduce the supply of illicit drugs—including cracking down on traffickers and seizing more than 15,000 pounds of fentanyl last year.
Addressing any one of these challenges is a tall order. But, I’ve been inspired by the efforts of local leaders like you. Last month, I accompanied President Biden and Mayor Adams in New York City. We joined a meeting where federal, state, and local law enforcement shared intelligence to take repeat shooters off the street. We met with community violence intervention leaders. Nobody hid behind slogans. They didn’t get hung up on ideology. Everyone was just rolling up their sleeves and solving problems. It was public service at its best. And, it gave me renewed confidence that we can build a stronger and more equitable future for our cities and our nation.
That is the task before us. That’s what this moment demands. And, that is the America we can and must deliver for the people we serve. Thank you very much.