In early September of last year, with a one-way ticket and two suitcases, I hopped on a train to Washington, D.C. As a life-long New Yorker and recent college graduate, I was a little nervous but mostly excited to settle into my new home and begin a four-month internship at Cornerstone Government Affairs. I didn’t (and still don’t) know exactly what I wanted to do long-term, but I did know two things: I had a desire to help people, and I had a passion to be involved in the policy world. To do that, I had to be in the eye of the storm – the Nation’s Capital
It wasn’t long before I got my first taste of politics, public policy and the world of Washington, D.C.— a world I am still only beginning to wrap my head around. In introductory meetings with the firm’s client teams, we discussed the structure and power of Congressional Committees; the importance of 302(b) allocations; the role of each of the 12 Appropriations Subcommittees in the House and Senate; how to navigate the Hill’s Congressional Office Buildings; the best way to extract the important details of a hearing in a timely manner. It was overwhelming and exhilarating. As an intern, I attended briefings, covered hearings, and conducted research on an assortment of issue areas I had never before studied.
As is true with so much in life, timing is everything. The first memo I wrote at Cornerstone covered a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing. What first started as a glimpse into the world of health policy introduced me to an entirely new interest area. Soon, I became immersed in the Hill’s efforts to address the nation’s leading health crisis—the opioid epidemic.
Opioid use disorder (OUD) kills an estimated 115 Americans each day; every 15 seconds an infant in the U.S. is born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, a condition caused by opioid withdrawal. As the epidemic grows, outbreaks of infectious disease continue — HIV, Hepatitis A, B, and C, and Group A Strep (a flesh-eating bacterial infection). Between July 2016 and September 2017, emergency department (ED) visits for opioid overdoses rose 30 percent; in some states, including Wisconsin and Delaware, ED visits increased by over 100 percent.
In a lucky and unexpected turn, my stay at Cornerstone was extended when a position on Cornerstone’s Health team opened. Now, I am an Associate supporting the firm’s Health team and its health clients, many of which are working day to day to protect our country’s public health, including combating the opioid epidemic. Part of my work is tracking the opioid epidemic.
Last week, the President signed the FY 2018 Omnibus Appropriations bill, which includes billions of dollars in new federal funding to combat the opioid epidemic. However, statements detailing the exact amount were inconsistent. House Republican appropriators tallied the total at “nearly” $4 billion; Senate Republican appropriators described it as “more than $4.65 billion,” or a $3.0 billion increase over the FY 2017 level; Senate Democratic appropriators said the agreement provided “new investments” of $3.3 billion. All three agree that the FY 2018 investment is at least triple the FY 2017 level.
Given the different perspectives, our team set out to detail the breadth of the federal government’s FY 2018 investment in the opioid epidemic. I assisted in sifting through the bill to identify all funding and the various levels for opioid-related programs and assisted in drafting a unique memo that catalogs these programs across nine appropriations bills.
It has been six months since I first arrived in DC. To date, it has been everything I hoped for and more. I feel, thanks to the good work of so many of our firm’s clients, that in some small way, I am helping people. Now, with a view of the Washington monument from my desk, I also feel fully involved in the policy world on a set of issues that matter and have no plans anytime soon to buy that return ticket to New York.