Sober home certification: Nonprofit could again lose money to do it

Certifying sober homes was one of the top proposals for cleaning up the state’s fraud-ridden drug treatment industry, thePalm Beach County State Attorney’s Task Force concluded last year.

But for a second year in a row, the organization that does the certifying statewide could see its financing gutted by lawmakers.

In February, the Florida Association for Recovery Residences asked the Legislature for $275,000 to train five people to certify sober homes and obtain new software. Sen. Kevin Rader, a Democrat from Delray Beach, filed the request.

Now $175,000 of the proposed money has been diverted to continue State Attorney Dave Aronberg’s Sober Homes Task Force. The measure hasn’t yet passed.

For FARR, it feels like a repeat of last year’s legislative session, when it asked for money only to get nothing and see $275,000 go to Aronberg. An additional $125,000 is also slated to go his task force this year.

“I am definitely in support of Aronberg continuing on,” said FARR’s executive director, John Lehman. “If he needs $300,000 he should get $300,000, but it shouldn’t come out of FARR. Why would it come out of FARR?”

In December, both the task force and a grand jury recommended a series of reforms that included requiring any “commercial” sober home — where patients live while they are still getting treatment — be required to be certified.

A bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Bill Hager of Boca Raton doesn’t go that far. Sober homes wouldn’t have to be certified, but it would be illegal for a treatment center to refer patients to a sober home that isn’t certified.

Aronberg’s chief assistant, Al Johnson, said it shouldn’t be a choice between financing the task force and FARR.

“Yes, FARR needs to be adequately funded and yes, the Sober Homes Task Force needs to extend another year, so it’s a false choice,” Johnson said. “Both should be funded.”

Lehman said what he’s asking for is a one-time request. Fees paid by sober homes seeking certification should support the Boca Raton-based nonprofit going forward.

Lehman said the money would go toward hiring and training five people to inspect sober homes across the state, getting better software and educating sober home owners.

“There are lots of recovery residences that don’t have a policy and procedure manual and wouldn’t know how to build one if their life depended on it,” Lehman said.

He said none of the money would go to his own salary — he doesn’t have one and hasn’t in his five years leading FARR.

Palm Beach Post staff writer Joe Capozzi contributed to this report.

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