In the News

By Niv Ellis

Members of Congress from both parties and both chambers called on Thursday for the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to embark on a new study of pay differences between men and women in the federal government, which would be the first such study since 2009.

"I will be calling for a new GAO study on the topic of the gender pay gap in the federal government," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) in response to an inquiry from The Hill.
"Good data is key to getting women the pay they have earned. Men and women deserve equal pay for equal work, and this study—the first of its kind at the GAO in about 9 years—will bring us closer to that reality,” added DeLauro, who is the ranking member of the House Appropriations subcommittee on labor.

This week, The Hill estimated that the federal government could be paying women in the federal workforce between $2.5 and $4 billion less than men for the same work. The estimate relied on the 2009 GAO study, as well as data and another study from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in 2014, which was ordered by the Obama administration.

The 2009 GAO study found a larger unexplained difference in federal women's pay, but Congress had not requested an updated look from the Congressional auditor since, as The Hill noted.

Congress has authority to commission studies from GAO, but not from the OPM.

Both studies looked at the average earnings of men and women in the federal government, and found gaps of 11 to 13 percent. The studies then tried to account for legitimate factors that affect pay differences, such as how much experience people have in the government, levels of education and management level.

Neither study was able to fully explain the gap between men and women’s pay and cited discrimination as one possible contributor.

“There is only one explanation once you look at all the legitimate factors, and that is that women are discriminated against in the pay that they receive, and it’s time to rectify it,” said Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.).

The federal government, she added, should be leading by example on issues such as equal pay.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who worked on the gender pay gap in her first job out of college, said another study was overdue.

“I certainly think that we will be much better informed in our debates if we have that sort of data and it’s refreshed,” she said.

Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) said the study should be broader, examining minority wages.

A Pew poll from 2015 found that average hourly wages for Hispanic and African-American men are $6 and $7, respectively, less than those of white men, while women of those races earn another $3 less.

“For African American women, we know that the wage gap is even worse, leaving black women and their families with earnings that keep them in lower economic standing,” Sewell said.

“In order to close the pay gap in our federal workforce, we need to have up-to-date information on where it exists and who it impacts,” she added.

Support for a renewed investigation was not limited to women or to Democrats.

“The reality is we all need to be working against gaps in pay for doing the same work. 2009 was a long time ago,” said Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said it was important to get new data and use it to craft appropriate solutions.

“The fact of the matter is, if there’s a gender pay gap for the same seniority, holding everything ceteris paribus, it needs to be addressed,” he said.

Some members, such as Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), agreed that it was time for a new study, but noted that dealing with equal pay for equal work was only a portion of the problem women face.

“There are other issues also that are important. I think we need paid maternity leave for women. The federal government doesn’t provide that. In the private sector, big corporations and even small business who want to keep employees provide maternity leave. Both for women and men, paternity leave,” Shaheen said.

Many of the Democrats that The Hill spoke to, such as Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), said that passing the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would make employers more liable in cases of discrimination, was also a priority.

“While Senator Murray believes there are many steps we can take to close the wage gap, including studying the issue further, she believes the most meaningful step is to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act to ensure that every woman in the United States finally gets the fair pay she is owed for her work,” said an aide to Murry, the ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) noted that the House’s legislative branch appropriations bill required a similar study on compensation equity in the House. Capitol Hill pay was not covered in the GAO or OPM studies.

“Addressing pay inequality between women and men is a top priority,” she said.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, agreed that the issue was important to deal with, but said it should be done through legislation, not the appropriations process.

Asked if he would support legislation that sought to fill the gap between women and men’s federal pay, he responded, “Absolutely.”

Original story here.
By Duncan Strauss and Karin Brulliard

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Her boyfriend became abusive about six months after they met. He would drink himself into a stupor and tear the house apart while screaming and insulting her, once even threatening to snap her neck. She worried for herself, but also for her beloved golden retriever, Cody, whom she had rescued from an abusive former owner.

“The biggest argument I had with him in the beginning was saying, ‘Do not raise your voice in front of the dog. Don’t scream and yell in front of her. Don’t throw things around her,” recalled K., a steely 44-year-old who spent two decades in the military. “ ‘These things traumatize her.’ ”

The end came in February, when the boyfriend threw K. against a wall. The woman, whose name is being withheld to protect her, called the authorities and fled with Cody. The pair ended up staying at a friend’s, but it wasn’t a good situation. That’s when K. went online and happened upon a very rare place: a domestic violence shelter that allows pets.

Both K. and Cody have been bunking for three months at Community Action Stops Abuse, or CASA, a 100-bed shelter that can also accommodate up to four dogs and four cats. Outside a separate kennel building is a fenced, grassy area where Cody and her owner can play without fear.

Not long ago, they wouldn’t have had the option. CASA opened its kennel in early March, joining the small ranks of domestic violence shelters nationwide that accommodate pets. These shelters have emerged out of a growing awareness that pets are often used as pawns by abusers to maintain control over victims.

A widening body of research in the past two decades has found that abusers often threaten, injure and even kill victims’ animals, and surveys of women at shelters have found that about 20 percent to 50 percent say concerns about a pet’s fate delayed their decision to flee. These situations are particularly dire when victims are deeply attached to their pets, said Frank Ascione, a University of Denver psychologist who has published numerous studies on the topic.

Particularly in households with no children, Ascione said, “the pet or companion animal may be the only source of safe, affectionate contact that a woman has in her environment.”

More shelters these days ask questions about pets as part of their intake procedure, he said, and a shelter directory published by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence now includes information about facilities’ pet policies. Yet while more than 100 in the United States allow animals, they’re still a small minority — amounting to as little as 3 percent of shelters, according to advocates.
CASA’s kennel was inspired by a former resident whose abuser killed her pet after she fled and left the animal in his care, said interim CEO Lariana Forsythe, who called that situation, “unfortunately, a very common occurrence.”

But becoming pet-friendly isn’t an easy decision, she acknowledged. Many elements must be considered: Who will clean the pet area? Will animals require food or veterinary care? What if other residents have allergies? And what about liability insurance?

“It gets complicated,” Forsythe said. “I think a lot of shelters recognize the problem, but the investment is a difficult one to make.”

Shelters use various models to assist with pets. Some do not house animals but partner with local veterinary clinics or animal shelters that agree to put up the critters temporarily. Some work with foster families that will take in victims’ pets. Some have a storage closet set aside for crated animals; others let pets stay in rooms with residents.

Construction is underway in New York City for the nation’s first shelter custom-built for victims and pets. Run by the nonprofit Urban Resource Institute and scheduled to open this fall, it will have 30 pet-friendly apartments in a building that can house about 100 people. Based on guidance from pet behaviorists from Purina, a partner in the project, it will feature pastel colors said to be soothing to animals, flooring with enough traction for feet with claws and elevated surfaces such as high bookshelves for cats to climb.

Outside will be a fenced, parklike “pet haven” — important because victims, having fled abusers who might try to track them down, need a secure place to get their dogs some exercise, said Kurt Venator, Purina’s chief veterinary officer.

“The concept of taking them for a walk on the city street is just not an option,” he said.

The Urban Resource Institute has accepted pets in four of its domestic violence shelters since 2013 — dogs and cats, plus a few turtles and one bearded dragon — but this will be its first “intentional” space created with victims and animals in mind, said President and CEO Nathaniel Fields. It reflects providers’ increasing realization that they must focus on reducing the hurdles that victims face when leaving an abuser.

“We recognized that, when you look at the percentage of households that have pets and the still-stubborn realities of domestic violence, that our work was to reduce the obstacles,” he said. “Let’s not put a survivor in an impossible situation of choosing between their own safety and … the safety of their pets.”

Proposed legislation in Congress, the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, would provide grant funding for programs and shelters to assist domestic violence victims who have pets. One sponsor of the House version, Rep. Katherine M. Clark (D-Mass.), said she was spurred to introduce it after hearing the stories of victims in her state, including one whose abuser decapitated her dog and another whose abuser shut a pet “in a drawer until the abuser felt that the victim had been appropriately apologetic.”

The bipartisan measure, which the Senate Agriculture Committee included this week in the Farm Bill, should be an easy win, Clark said. But it has been passed over in previous sessions.

“Pets don’t care about our politics,” Clark said in an interview. “This is a good way to really reach across party lines and ideologies and do a bill that is indisputably good for animals but is really about helping people in dire situations.”

K. isn’t sure what she would have done had she not found CASA, because she made a vow to Cody on the day they met that she would never leave the dog. That was several years ago, as K. was driving and saw a man on the side of the road hitting and kicking an overweight golden retriever.

K. recalls hopping out of her truck to confront the man — and to matter-of-factly inform him that the dog would be coming with her. He argued; she threatened to call the sheriff and report what she had witnessed. The dog seemed to agree with K’s plan.

“I just opened the door to my truck, she came over to me, licked my hand and jumped in,” K. said. “From Day One, as crazy as this sounds, it’s like I knew I would do anything to protect her.”

Cody, who is about 10, is now a protector, too. K. said she has post-traumatic stress and depression, which prompted her mental-health provider to write a letter testifying that Cody is not just her pet, but her emotional-support animal. That means the dog —  CASA’s only nonhuman resident — gets to stay inside the shelter with K.

She hopes more shelters will let other victims stick with their pets.

“Going through a situation like this is traumatic enough,” K. said. “It’s the same way for [pets], and I really think separating them from their owners, I don’t think that does any good for them, either …. Once we’re gone, who’s left to abuse but the animals? The animals can’t fight back — the animals can’t pick up the phone and call the police.”


Original story here.
By: WBUR Newsroom

The U.S. House on Tuesday unanimously passed a bill cosponsored by Massachusetts Rep. Katherine Clark that she said would take a major step to fight the nation's opioid epidemic.

The measure, according to a statement from Clark's office, would offer "student loan repayment of up to $250,000 for participants who agree to work as a substance use disorder treatment professional in areas most in need of their services." Participants must agree to work in a full-time job in such a "high-need area" for up to six years.

Speaking with WBUR, Clark, a Democrat who represents the 5th district, said the bill would help deal with a shortage of treatment across the country.

"The opioid crisis doesn't know red state, blue state, doesn't care how much money you have in your bank account, or if you went to college or not," Clark said.

Clark's office cited experts that say only 10 percent of the estimated 22 million Americans with a substance use disorder receive treatment.

The bill — the Substance Use Disorder Workforce Loan Repayment Act, cosponsored by Republican Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky --  now goes to the Senate. Clark said she's "very optimistic" senators will likewise pass it.

Clark told WBUR the measure is "one of the true bipartisan efforts that I've been part of here in Congress."

With reporting by WBUR's Benjamin Swasey

Original story here.

By Shannon Young

A bipartisan effort to encourage more people to enter jobs in the substance abuse treatment field cleared the U.S. House this week, as lawmakers considered a series of bills aimed at addressing issues related to the opioid epidemic.

U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Melrose, who sponsored the legislation with Kentucky Republican Rep. Hal Rogers, praised lawmakers for unanimously approving the measure that seeks to offer student loan repayment benefits to those who agree to work in addiction treatment jobs in high-need areas.

"Congress took a major step forward in our fight to combat the opioid crisis," she said in a statement. "Every new treatment professional we invest in could mean survival for someone's child, parent, sibling or friend, who may not have had access to treatment otherwise."

Clark added that the bill, which responds to workforce concerns raised by treatment providers across Massachusetts, "provides the support needed" for communities to better respond to the opioid crisis.

Linda Rosenberg, the National Council for Behavioral Health president and CEO, also lauded House lawmakers for endorsing the legislation, arguing that it will encourage more students to pursue addiction treatment careers, thus cutting down on waiting lists and delays that have resulted from current shortages.

"By creating a dedicated fund to pay for loan forgiveness for substance use disorder professionals, it creates a program to help addiction treatment professionals repay student loans, adds incentives for students to pursue these professions, and ultimately increases timely access to treatment for individuals living with addiction," she said in a statement.

Council on Social Work Education President and CEO Darla Spence Coffey added that "federal support for education and training programs is critical to ensuring that the U.S. has the proper supply of health professionals to meet growing demands."

Specifically, the bill, known as the Substance Use Disorder Workforce Loan Repayment Act, would allow eligible participants to seek repayment up to $250,000.

To qualify for such repayments, individuals must agree to work in full-time substance use disorder treatment jobs in high-need areas for up to six years. Eligible positions include direct patient care roles such as physicians, registered nurses, social workers and recovery coaches, among others.

The legislation, which is one of thirty opioid-related bills to go before the House, now moves to the U.S. Senate.

Several groups have come out in support of the legislation, including: the American Federation of State and County and Municipal Employees, American Medical Association, the American Society of Addiction Medicine, the American Nurses Association, the Addiction Policy Forum and the Coalition to Stop Opioid Overdose, among others.

The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that about 10 percent of Americans with substance use disorders receive treatment. Experts have attributed that low percentage, in part, to the lack of providers.

Despite a 2014 federal push to grow the behavioral health workforce, that gap is expected to grow in the coming years, with SAMHSA projecting significant shortages of psychiatrists, substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors and substance abuse social workers by 2025.


Original story here.

By Ryan Grenoble

It had been a quiet Sunday evening in January 2016 when Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) noticed police lights streaming through her window.

Curious to see if a neighbor needed help, she peeked out her front door ? coming face to face with a handful of officers on her front lawn, pointing long guns right at her.

The congresswoman had just been “swatted,” or subjected to a malicious act in which a person hides their identity, then calls the cops and reports a violent crime at the address of whomever they’re targeting.

Believing these false alarms to be real, officers often respond forcefully with some combination of SWAT teams, guns and helicopters. In Clark’s case, the situation was resolved peacefully as one big misunderstanding. Similarly, this week, someone swatted David Hogg, the Parkland school shooting survivor and gun control advocate. Fortunately, he was not home.

But in worst-case swatting incidents, police shoot innocent people to death. Last December, officers shot and killed an unarmed 28-year-old man on his front doorstep after receiving a call that he’d shot his father in the head and was holding his mother and two siblings hostage.

He’d done nothing of the sort. The Wichita, Kansas, resident’s fatal mistake was living at an address that a “Call of Duty” gamer had fabricated and posted online during an escalating argument with a fellow gamer.

Los Angeles police arrested Tyler Barriss for the swatting attack the next day. The 25-year-old lived in California and had called police in Wichita from some 1,500 miles away.

Barriss’ arrest, however, is an anomaly. Tracking down and arresting a swatter is often a difficult, costly endeavor, requiring investigators to cross local, state and international borders alike in search of call logs on servers. For that reason, arrests are infrequent.

“These are sophisticated players, and they know how to cover their tracks through technology,” Clark told HuffPost. Whoever sent the police to her door was never held responsible.

Clark suspects she was attacked because of legislation she introduced in 2015 that aims to facilitate finding and holding swatters accountable. “The timing seems very coincidental,” she noted, acknowledging, “we have no idea who the person was or what their true motive was.”

Clark’s bill, the Interstate Swatting Hoax Act of 2015, got stuck in a subcommittee. But the lawmaker believes high-profile swatting attacks, like the one on Hogg, and growing public awareness might be just enough to spur Congress to take action.

“What we’re trying to do with this legislation is really design and update our criminal laws to reflect some of the new, very threatening tools of harassment that we’re seeing online,” Clark said. While calling in things like bomb threats and terrorist attacks is illegal, federal law doesn’t currently explicitly mention falsely reporting other emergency situations.

Her bill would close that loophole.

“Instead of trying to fit swatting into false threats, or false police reports, or looking at even terrorism statutes, we try to make a bill that shows exactly the elements of this crime and that you have to knowingly make a false or misleading report, and then the penalties escalate with the harm that results,” Clark explained.

Her bill also includes a provision to help local police departments recoup the costs of responding to a swatting attack, which can regularly stretch into the tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. In 2014, one attack in Long Beach, New York, cost law enforcement agencies in the area an estimated $100,000. A 2015 attack in Colorado cost $25,000. With a frequency of around 400 swatting attacks a year, according to the FBI, that adds up.

“Swatting is becoming more common across the country,” Clark said. “What happened to me, unfortunately, happens to many victims and families around the country and jumps out of harassment online and in the virtual world and really impacts security and safety in the real world.”


Original story here.

Congresswoman Katherine Clark is looking to criminalize the dangerous trend called swatting, which involves making a prank call so emergency services show up at a particular location. J.D. Durkin joins speaker to her about the efforts on Capitol Hill.

By Shannon Young

As addiction treatment providers across the country struggle to recruit and retain health care professionals and staff, Americans with substance abuse disorders can be left waiting for services -- a delay that can make the difference between life and death.

The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates about 10 percent of Americans with substance use disorders receive treatment. Experts have attributed that low percentage, in part, to the lack of providers.

Despite a 2014 federal push to grow the behavioral health workforce, that gap is expected to grow in the coming years, with SAMHSA projecting significant shortages of psychiatrists, substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors and substance abuse social workers by 2025.

U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Melrose, is looking to change that. 

The congresswoman, along with Kentucky Republican Rep. Hal Rogers, has sponsored legislation that seeks to encourage more people to enter the substance abuse disorder treatment field by offering student loan repayment to those who agree to work in high-need areas -- places with a shortage of mental health professionals or a high rate of drug overdose deaths. 

Clark, whose bill would allow eligible participants to seek repayment up to $250,000, said the proposal comes in direct response to workforce concerns raised by treatment providers across Massachusetts.

The congresswoman worked with treatment officials to craft the legislation's student loan repayment system in a way that mirrors similar programs that aim to entice workers in other sectors of the health care industry.

"We've seen this be very successful in other models of medical treatment and we hope that this will be a good way of building the workforce that we need to address the opioid crisis," Clark said in a recent interview.

"We have a workforce crisis in addiction treatment, not only in Massachusetts, but we're seeing it other parts of the country. I think that this is a step that can be part of the answer."

To qualify, participants must agree to work in full-time substance use disorder treatment jobs in high-need areas for up to six years. Eligible positions include direct patient care roles such as physicians, registered nurses, social workers and recovery coaches, among others.

Association for Behavioral Healthcare President and CEO Vic DiGravio, who worked with Clark's office on the bill, said the student loan repayment program could go a long way toward growing the workforce and lowering turnover.

Although much of the conversation around addressing the opioid crisis has focused on the need for more treatment beds, DiGravio stressed that "opening a new treatment facility is not going to work if you don't have the staff."

"As crazy as it sounds, finding the capital to build a state-of-the-art facility and furnish it and everything is the easy part," he said.

DiGravio said members of ABH struggle to hire and keep addiction treatment staff as demand grows in response to the opioid crisis, with some workers leaving for better salaries and others experiencing burnout. 

While some members can afford to pay for high-level positions like doctors and psychiatrists with annual salaries above $200,000, that amount is typically about a quarter less than what those same workers could make at acute care hospitals or other facilities, he said.

That, coupled with student debt, makes it hard for many to stay in addiction treatment long-term, DiGravio said.

"If people are reading this and saying, 'This is a giveaway to rich doctors,' nothing could be farther from the truth," he said.

DiGravio added that doctors and those with advanced degrees are not the only ones who could benefit from Clark's bill, as its intentionally broad language could apply to "any loan for education or training for a substance use disorder treatment job."

He noted that direct care workers also often leave their positions at treatment facilities to take better paying jobs in order to make ends meet.

"On the lower end of the spectrum, for direct care workers, what is not all that uncommon is that people leave our members to go work at McDonald's or Wendy's because they can pay better hourly wages than our members can," DiGravio said.

Katherine B. Wilson, the president and CEO of Springfield-based Behavioral Health Network Inc., said as a designated health care shortage area, her organization has already benefited from other loan repayment programs similar to the one in Clark's bill.

"It's very helpful for getting people to take a look at us. If we have a professional who comes to us -- a social worker who has $40,000, $50,000 worth of tuition payment loans that they have to pay back -- they could apply for a job and they could apply for the loan repayment," she said. "And we do have individuals who have gotten some pretty impressive amounts of money to pay off their loans."

Although that program has helped recruitment efforts, Wilson acknowledged that BHN still faces challenges in hiring experienced professionals given the salaries it can offer potential workers -- amounts she said are often set through state contracts and are not always market-rate.

"We might have to take people with less experience to start with because they're willing to take lower compensation than a really experienced individual. And then we will provide training and support and supervision to help them get to the level of experience that we need, but that may take a little bit of time, and it takes time away from our really experienced staff to provide them that support," she said. "It's an expensive endeavor."

Henry Julio East-Trou, executive director of the Gandara Center in West Springfield, said Clark's proposed loan repayment program could particularly help organizations like his, which can face additional challenges when trying to recruit the diverse, bilingual staff needed to provide culturally sensitive services to Western Massachusetts' Hispanic community.

East-Trou said a student loan repayment program would make clinics like Gandara more competitive with hospitals and other facilities in attracting such in-demand professionals. He said he has had to recruit workers from Spain because he can't find enough Spanish-speaking providers in Massachusetts.

Beyond workers, stakeholders argue that those seeking addiction treatment could be among the biggest beneficiaries under Clark's bill.

"If somebody is suffering from an opioid addiction and they wake up one day and say, 'This is it, I'm going into treatment, because I don't want to live like this anymore,' if they can't get into treatment for two or three days, then that whole impetus they had when they woke up could be gone," DiGravio said.

He added that workforce shortages have also created gaps between when patients leave detox and begin the next phase of treatment.

Another challenge, Wilson said, is that organizations like hers "might not be able to offer a long-term relationship with a professional residential provider, or a direct care support staff" due to turnover. 

"That's a difficult change for people to sustain," she said. "It doesn't mean the quality of what we do isn't good, but it's hard to sustain consistency in the quality when you're having to bring in new people."

Clark said she's hopeful the measure, which recently cleared the House Energy and Commerce Committee, will pass the chamber along with other bills related to addressing the opioid epidemic by Congress' summer recess. 

U.S. Sens. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., Lisa Murkowsi, R-Alaska, and Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., have introduced a companion version of the bill in the Senate.

Original story here.

By: Katie Thompson

BOSTON — A 22-year-old former employee of a Logan International Airport subcontractor that cleans airliners filed a discrimination complaint Monday alleging she was sexually harassed by a supervisor and unjustly fired when she turned down his unwanted advances.

Rosa Morban, who lost her job with ReadyJet earlier this year, said her supervisor exposed himself to her, made inappropriate comments and would arrange it so that the two of them were alone so he could harass her.

Speaking in Spanish through an interpreter, Mobran said when she tried to speak up about it, another manager refused to take her seriously and joked that she would probably end up marrying her supervisor.

"I was always made to feel that my word had no value, that what was important to me was not important them, that they would do nothing and nothing would happen to them," she said in an interview following a press conference Monday.

A voice message left with ReadyJet early Monday wasn't immediately returned.

Morban, who's filing her complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, is the fourth worker from the company to bring similar charges, according to the airport workers' union 32BJ SEUI, which is representing Morban.

The union said the workers were inspired to come forward after another employee spoke out against sexual harassment by her ReadyJet manager. That woman also discussed harassment in the service worker industry in January while serving as a guest of Democratic U.S. Rep. Katherine's Clark at the State of the Union Address. The woman has since settled her complaint, the union said.

Clark said Monday that the #MeToo movement - which has brought to light sexual misconduct by powerful men in the political arena and film industry- also extends to service industry workers.

"Whatever race, income level or job you have, you have a right to have a safe working environment," Clark said.

Morban said when she threatened to report her supervisor, he suggested that no one would believe her word over his. She said the support of the union and her co-workers has given her the strength to break her silence now.

"Having support from all of you gives me the courage to demand the respect I deserve," she said.

Original Article

By Shannon Young, April 3, 2018

Massachusetts lawmakers urged Congress and the Trump administration Tuesday to take additional steps to end the opioid abuse epidemic, as well as called on federal officials to begin measuring the progress made thus far on the issue.

Although U.S. Sen. Ed Markey and U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark touted bills federal lawmakers have passed to expand access to addiction treatment and crack down on fentanyl trafficking, the Massachusetts Democrats told National RX Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit attendees that more must be done to reduce opioid-related deaths.

Markey, who previously addressed the summit in 2017, praised Republicans and Democrats for coming together on legislation that required a surgeon general's report on opioid abuse, made medication-assisted treatments more widely available and enhanced border agents' ability to detect drug smuggling.

He argued that such bipartisanship is needed if the United States is serious about ending the opioid crisis.

The senator, however, took issue with the Trump administration's approach to the issue, particularly the president's call to stop drug trafficking by building a wall along the United State's southern border with Mexico, temporary designation of opioid abuse as a "public health emergency" and plan to seek the death penalty against some drug dealers.

Contending that "more than 50,000 people have died from prescription drug, heroin and fentanyl overdoses since President (Donald) Trump took office," Markey called on the Republican to focus on ensuring providers receive proper prescribing education, dedicating more funding and resources to treatment and investing in "21st Century" border surveillance technologies.

"It's time for this and all future administrations to be held accountable for addressing the opioid crisis," he said.

Markey further told summit attendees he will offer legislation that represents "a national strategy to end the opioid epidemic in America."

The senator said the measure will require the federal government to set tangible benchmarks for how the U.S. addresses the opioid crisis. It also looks to measure progress on key objectives, like reducing overdose deaths, expanding treatment availability, increasing the number of people in sustained recovery and decreasing emergency room visits for overdoses.

"We need to start measuring our progress or we will continue to fight the same battle over and over again," he said.

Like Markey, Clark agreed that federal lawmakers "have much work to do" when it comes to combatting opioid abuse.

The Melrose Democrat said she's committed to pushing legislation that aims to reduce the number of opioid-related deaths, like the "YOUTH Act," which calls for expanding access to evidence-based, medication-assisted treatment for adolescents and young adults, and the "Prescriber Support Act," which would help doctors and nurses make decisions about prescribing opioids.

Clark added that she and Congressman Hal Rogers, R-Kentucky, have further offered a measure that would create a student loan repayment program for those in the substance use disorder treatment field.

"All of these proposals are just incremental steps. But, when we put another treatment professional to work in the field, or we effectively communicate safe prescribing guidelines to health care providers on the ground, those steps forward create future steps forward," she told summit attendees. "The only way we can fully address the crisis is by working together to find every creative, practical tool we can to chip away at it."

Contending that funding plays an important part in achieving that goal, Clark called on Congress to appropriate the money needed to crack down on opioid abuse.

Markey and Clark were among six congressional lawmakers who spoke at the summit held in Atlanta, Georgia.

The annual conference, which runs through April 5, brings together local, state and federal officials, as well as treatment providers, business leaders and educators to discuss and work on solutions to ending drug abuse.