On July 23 Dr. Darla Spence Coffey, CSWE president and CEO, and the CSWE Public Policy Initiative met with several Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) leaders. The meetings provided an opportunity to connect with key players overseeing programs of importance to CSWE, specifically within the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Dr. Coffey and the PPI met with Luis Padilla, associate administrator of HRSA’s Bureau of Health Workforce; Michelle Washko, director of HRSA’s National Center for Health Workforce Analysis; and Joan Weiss, senior advisor in HRSA’s Division of Medicine and Dentistry. Topics of discussion included social work workforce projections and the need for potential collaborations to produce better data, as well as the important role of social work in HRSA’s Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training program and Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program. Dr. Coffey and the PPI also met with Louis Trevisan, director of SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment and Johnnetta Davis-Joyce, director of SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, to discuss social work curriculum and training pertaining to addiction and substance use disorders.
As part of its advocacy concerning reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, the CSWE Public Policy Initiative (PPI) advocates for maintenance and improved oversight of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. The CSWE PPI is an active member of the PSLF Coalition and has been involved in the Coalition’s efforts to bring attention to the need to preserve, protect, and improve the program. CSWE members who are interested in sharing their PSLF story can contact the CSWE PPI. Stories about why the program is important and issues related to program administration are particularly helpful.
Support for and improvement of the PSLF program is a priority for CSWE. Created in 2007, the program encourages students to pursue public service careers. Eligible employees who work at qualifying public service organizations and make 120 on-time monthly payments—which total 10 years of payments—can qualify for loan forgiveness. The PSLF program has faced several challenges lately. In July the U.S. Department of Education was sued and accused of mismanaging the program. Only about 1% of borrowers have been granted forgiveness of their student loans.
The National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), a federal advisory committee to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), solicited nominations for new council members earlier this summer. In response, CSWE encouraged three outstanding experts in the field of environmental justice and social work to apply for the opportunity to participate. CSWE wrote letters to support Dr. Christina L. Erickson, a professor in the Department of Social Work and Environmental Studies Program at Augsburg University; Dr. Anna Hayward, an associate professor at the Stony Brook University School of Social Welfare; and Dr. Dorlisa Minnick, an associate professor at the Shippensburg University Department of Social Work and Gerontology. The NEJAC is charged with providing advice to the EPA on issues related to environmental justice strategy, research, regulations, community engagement, and economic issues.
CSWE, the Society for Social Work and Research, the Boston University Center for Innovation in Social Work & Health, and the Center for Health and Social Care Integration will hold a congressional briefing, “Integrating Social Determinants of Health Into Future Health-Care Policy,” on September 26. Congressional briefings help educate policymakers on issues of national importance. This briefing will focus on concrete federal policy solutions for integrating social determinants into health-care policy. It will build on a National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine report on integration of social needs care and health care, which is expected to be released in September. The briefing will be sponsored by Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA), MSW, and the Congressional Social Work Caucus, and will feature several social workers and federal health-care policy experts.
Congress passed and President Trump signed a 2-year budget agreement, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019, which extends the debt limit and sets spending levels for the coming 2 fiscal years. The budget agreement avoids a $126 billion, or 10%, cut in discretionary spending in fiscal year (FY) 2020 and instead increases discretionary spending caps in FY 2020 and FY 2021 above FY 2019 funding levels. The deal also extends an automatic 2% cut to Medicare for the third time since enactment in the Budget Control Act of 2011 to offset costs from the spending increase.
Senate Appropriations Committee staff members are working through the August recess to finalize each of the 12 Senate spending bills. To adhere to the budget agreement, the Senate’s funding levels will be roughly $15 billion lower than in the bills passed by the House of Representatives earlier this year; once Congress returns from the August recess, the two chambers will meet in conference to work out disagreements.
A bill titled Social Determinants Accelerator Act of 2019 was introduced by Reps. Cheri Bustos (D-IL), Tom Cole (R-OK), Jim McGovern (D-MA), and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) on July 25. The legislation would require states to create strategies to leverage existing programs to improve health and wellness. States would create plans to identify high needs groups and address social determinants contributing to disparities in health, such as access to health care, transportation, housing, and healthy food. It would also fund grants to help states and communities create and implement these plans. The bill would direct the convening of an interagency advisory council on social determinants of health from among relevant federal agencies.
Dr. George Sigounas, currently serving as administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), will step down from his role. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) confirmed that Administrator Sigounas will move to a position advising HHS Secretary Alex Azar on rural health and health reform. Deputy Administrator Thomas Engels will become acting head of HRSA.
Adam Boehler, director of the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation (CMMI), plans to step down in anticipation of appointment by President Trump to head the International Development Finance Corporation. Director Boehler, who joined CMMI from Landmark Health in 2018, was a major proponent of the social determinants of health model that CMMI has been developing. Following the announcement, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma said of Director Boehler, “You have taken your private sector success as an investor and entrepreneur and made a significant, lasting impact at [CMS and CMMI].” Director Boehler will stay in his current role while his nomination is pending.
The American Council on Education (ACE), of which CSWE is a member, released a new survey of college presidents, “College Student Mental Health and Well-Being.” The survey reveals that college presidents believe student mental health has become a greater priority in the last 3 years and that additional funding has been put toward addressing student mental health. However, if provided unlimited funding, most college presidents would prioritize hiring of additional staff professionals to attend to students’ mental health needs.