Public Policy News — June 2020
CSWE Participates in Meetings Advocating for Health Professions Programs
CSWE Supports Expanding Pell Grants and Emergency COVID Student Aid
CSWE Advocates Efforts for New Workforce Training Demonstration
CSWE participated in remote Capitol Hill meetings led by the Health Professions and Nursing Education Coalition (HPNEC) to advocate for funding for the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Title VII Health Professions programs. The meetings allowed CSWE to discuss the importance of Title VII programs such as the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Program as Congress begins its federal spending process for fiscal year (FY) 2021. The HPNEC meetings also allowed CSWE to spread awareness about social work’s important role during the COVID-19 pandemic. CSWE participated in meetings with the offices of Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), which expressed strong support for social work and federal health professions programs.
CSWE joined more than 80 other organizations in asking Congress to increase and protect the Pell Grant program, which is critical to ensuring higher education access and affordability for low-income students. The letter asks Congress to double the maximum Pell Grant award. Separately, CSWE and several other health profession education organizations sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) calling for the inclusion of undocumented, international, and excluded students in emergency student aid provided by the CARES Act. ED has come under significant criticism from Congress and institutions about this exclusion and is currently facing several lawsuits related to the issue.
CSWE joined eight organizations in expressing concerns regarding the Health and Human Services Administration’s (HRSA’s) implementation of the Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders Workforce Training Demonstration, which was authorized in the 21st Century Cures Act. In a letter addressed to HRSA Administrator Thomas Engels, the organizations stated, “while Congress expressed its clear intent through both the program’s authorization and pertinent appropriations reports that the Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders Workforce Training demonstration supports interprofessional training, the current administration of the program suggests that HRSA will fall short of this direction.” The letter also requested clarity about the agency’s plans to distribute program funding to one provider type. The organizations simultaneously engaged with House and Senate appropriations staff members to ensure that multiple mental and behavioral health professions, including social work, receive support under the demonstration.
On May 15 the House of Representatives passed a fifth coronavirus response package, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act (HR 6800) by a vote of 208 to 199. The bill is seen as a House Democrat COVID-relief priority list. Senate Republicans and the administration have stated the bill has no chance of becoming law. Provisions of the bill, however, could be included in a compromise COVID-relief bill that is likely to be negotiated by Senate leadership, the administration, and House leadership. A centerpiece of the HEROES Act is nearly $1 trillion proposed for state and local governments to help replace revenue shortfalls.
The HEROES Act would provide approximately $100 billion to the Department of Education to support educational needs. Of this amount, $90 billion would support a State Fiscal Stabilization Fund to provide grants to states to support funding for K-12 and public postsecondary institutions. Of the state education fund, 30% would be allocated to public institutions of higher education. The remaining $10 billion not allocated to the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund would provide $1.7 billion in support for Minority-Serving Institutions, $7 billion for private nonprofit institutions of higher education, and $1.4 billion for exclusively online institutions and institutions that would receive less than $1 million in an initial allocation. Although the HEROES Act is unlikely to be enacted as passed, provisions in the bill could be included in a future package.
On June 18 the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, rejected the Trump Administration’s attempt to dismantle the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects from deportation nearly 650,000 immigrants who arrived in the United States as children. The majority argued that the Department of Homeland Security did not comply with procedural requirements, including consideration of hardships DACA recipients could face if the program were ended. CSWE signed two amicus briefs that were submitted to the United States Supreme Court in support of protecting DACA recipients. The briefs highlighted how termination of the program would have a negative impact on education and health care.
On May 5 Senator Gillibrand (D-NY) and Senator Bennet (D-CO) introduced the Health Force and Resilience Force Act of 2020 (S 3606). This legislation would recruit, train, and employ Americans to expand the public health workforce for the COVID-19 response and to strengthen America’s capacity to meet longer-term public health needs. This bill introduces the Resilience Force to be administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which would prioritize hiring for several groups including recent graduates of social work programs. On May 6 Senator Durbin (D-IL) and Representative Schakowsky (D-IL) introduced the Health Heroes 2020 Act (HR 6650). This legislation would provide a large investment in the National Health Service Corps and Nurse Corps programs to cover graduate education costs for hundreds of thousands of clinicians. Dr. Darla Spence Coffey, CSWE president and CEO, expressed her support of the Health Force and Resilience Force Act of 2020, stating that it “recognizes the need to expand our public health workforce, which includes social workers.” CSWE, the National Association of Social Workers, and the National Association of Deans and Directors Schools of Social Work expressed joint support for the Health Heroes 2020 Act in a letter stating, “This legislation will provide critical support for the health workforce during this time of extreme need.” The joint letter also calls for changes to be made in the legislation “in recognition and furtherance of social workers’ key role in meeting the Nation’s mental health needs during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.”
House Judiciary Committee Holds Hearing on Policing Practices, Law Enforcement Accountability
On June 10 the House Judiciary Committee held the first public congressional meeting on policing following the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis on May 25. Lawmakers on the panel clarified their positions on the state of policing and diverged on issues of police funding and reforms. Representative Karen Bass (D-CA) highlighted the importance of social workers in addressing homelessness and mental health issues as related to policing. House Democrats introduced legislation to ban chokeholds, end absolute qualified immunity, provide no new funding for policing, and ban no-knock warrants. Senate Republican legislation, on the other hand, incentivizes not using chokeholds, provides no changes to qualified immunity, adds new police funding, and does not ban no-knock warrants.
On June 16 the Trump Administration released an executive order on safe policing that encouraged the presence of social workers working directly with law enforcement agencies in co-responder programs. Congress could pass police reform legislation by the July 4 recess.
On June 17 the Subcommittee on Health of the Committee on Energy and Commerce held a remote hearing titled “Health Care Inequality: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in COVID-19 and the Health Care System.” Witnesses included Rhea Boyd, MD, a pediatrician and child health advocate; Oliver T. Brooks, MD, president of the National Medical Association; and Avik S. A. Roy, president of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity. The hearing focused on how communities of color have long experienced disparities in health care in the United States and how the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted existing inequalities. In particular, the witnesses shared that long-term trends in health disparities for communities of color are rooted in social determinants that are often driven by structural discrimination and institutionalized racism, which result in minority populations having more difficulty gaining access to care and experiencing bias, discrimination, and poor outcomes in health care.
At the June 17 Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) hearing on telehealth and lessons learned from COVID-19, Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said that at least two of the most important temporary changes in federal policy made to help patients see doctors by phone or video during the COVID-19 pandemic should be extended permanently. Of the 31 temporary federal policy changes, Alexander said the federal government should permanently extend policy changes that allowed physicians to be reimbursed for a telehealth appointment wherever the patient is located, including the patient’s home, and permanently extend the policy change that nearly doubled the number of telehealth services that could be reimbursed by Medicare.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced the formation of a Basic Behavioral and Social Sciences Working Group to review its basic behavioral and social sciences research (bBSSR) portfolio. The working group will identify new promising and emerging areas of bBSSR to prioritize for NIH support, determine which emerging areas of research are not adequately supported by the current bBSSR portfolio, and decide whether a trans-NIH effort is needed to address emerging opportunities in bBSSR. This will be the first working group to review the bBSSR portfolio since 2004. It will be chaired by Bill Riley, director, NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research. The group’s eight to 10 members will include journal editors and scientific leadership from within the basic behavioral and social sciences.
NIMH revealed a new strategic plan with several cross-cutting research themes, including focuses on prevention, global mental health, environmental influences, medical co-morbidities, and the research workforce. The plan provides a framework for NIMH’s interest in basic research related to neuroscience research and its support for clinical studies for novel approaches in mental health, among other areas.
Among discussions related to COVID-19, the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities released supplemental research opportunities focused on mental health research and COVID-19; secondary health effects related to social, behavioral, and economic impacts of COVID-19; the impacts of isolation on health and well-being; and the impact of COVID-19 on minority health and health disparities. The Office of the Director has created the Rapid Acceleration Diagnostics (RADx) Initiative, which focuses on providing widespread COVID-19 testing. In addition, the RADx–Underserved Populations (RADx-UP) program encourages the development of projects focused on implementation strategies to enable and enhance COVID-19 testing capabilities in vulnerable communities. The RADx-UP program helps identify social, ethical, and behavioral implications of COVID-19 testing and determine the factors that led to the disproportionate burdens of the pandemic across underserved populations. NIH also recently released a new funding opportunity “encouraging research with NIH-designated health disparity populations and other vulnerable groups on community interventions to address the adverse psychosocial, behavioral, and socioeconomic effects of COVID-19.”
CSWE Spark is the online community designed to inspire conversation, share ideas, and help generate collaboration with social work faculty members and other professionals around the world. Recent posts include funding opportunity announcements from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) and the National Institutes for Mental Health (NIMH). The NIMHD funding opportunity focuses on community interventions to address the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic for health disparities and vulnerable populations. The NIMH funding opportunity focuses on digital health-care interventions to address the secondary health effects related to social, behavioral, and the economic impact of COVID-19.