Public Policy News – August 2020
CSWE Advocates for Student Loan Forgiveness in COVID-relief Bill
CSWE Supports Strengthening America’s Health Care Readiness Act
Office of Minority Health Virtual Symposium on Impact of COVID-19 Among Minority Communities
As Congress continues its efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic, CSWE encourages its members to consider this voluntary opportunity to contact their Members of Congress to ensure that future relief packages support social work education, practitioners, and the communities served by social work.
Social workers have been a critical component of the COVID-19 response. Both the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have designated social workers as "essential workers." As future legislation is developed, CSWE urges Congress to consider:
- Aid for students and institutions;
- Support for the social work workforce to address health care needs; and
- Combat and address disparities.
CSWE has provided a message that can be sent to Member’s of Congress on the SPARK platform, which can be accessed here.
As part of its COVID-relief advocacy efforts, CSWE joined with other members of the Federation of Associations of Schools of the Health Professions (FASHP), to call on Congress to include student loan forgiveness for health professionals in the upcoming COVID-19 supplemental package. The CARES Act, a relief bill passed in March, and a recent Executive Order on student loans, has allowed student loan borrowers to pause their student loan payments. CSWE and its fellow organizations support further efforts to provide additional relief, particularly debt relief and loan forgiveness. The letter notes, “Helping maintain our country’s health workforce by reducing their outstanding education debt during COVID-19 is certainly in the nation’s interest.” As highlighted in the advocacy alert above, CSWE supports efforts to provide students and institutions aid to ensure affordability and access to higher education during this pandemic.
CSWE joins several other organizations in supporting S.4055, the Strengthening America’s Health Care Readiness Act. This legislation would provide supplemental funding for the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) scholarship and loan repayment programs, along with addressing health care shortages through the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS). The funding would include a focus on recruiting health practitioners from historically underrepresented populations, such as racial and ethnic minorities and individuals from low-income urban and rural communities, which helps to improve retention and health outcomes and address disparities that have been compounded by the coronavirus. This legislation would also establish a demonstration project, which would allow members of the NHSC workforce to serve in emergency capacities through the NDMS. CSWE is advocating for inclusion of this legislation in a future COVID-relief bill. The COVID-19 pandemic underscores the critical role social workers play in responding to public health emergencies, and the need to invest in public health social work.
In July, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would provide funding for several federal agencies and programs important to social work education and research. The Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (Labor-HHS-ED) appropriations bill supports funding for the U.S. Departments of Education (ED) and Health and Human Services (HHS), which includes the National Institutes of Health (NIH). A significant portion of CSWE’s advocacy efforts is devoted to ensuring that this bill includes supports for student aid, behavioral and mental workforce training, research, and other education and training programs.
This year, CSWE was able to secure support for the Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) program at ED, which is one of the few grant programs that supports graduate education. CSWE was also successful in increasing support for the Minority Fellowship Program (MFP). A report accompanying the bill notes, “the critical importance of supporting a diverse behavioral health workforce and its effectiveness in addressing substance use disorders and mental health issues impacting minority and underserved populations.”
The House bill is one part of the process of securing funding for FY 2021. CSWE will continue to advocate for funding priorities in a Senate bill and will work to ensure social work education and research priorities are included in a final bill.
Senate Republicans Release COVID-19 Relief Bill
In July, Senate Republicans unveiled their $1 trillion plan for the next coronavirus aid package, known as the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act. The Senate bill would include additional funding for higher education through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), established by the CARES Act, as well as new liability protections and tax provisions of interest to institutions of higher education. The bill would also incorporate student loan repayment modification priorities of Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and new student aid regulatory flexibilities. The bill would provide $15.5 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), available through fiscal year (FY) 2024. The Senate bill would provide the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) additional funding for healthcare provider relief, testing and surveillance activities, and vaccine development efforts. The Senate bill would also advance various policies impacting providers, including extended telehealth flexibilities and new liability protections.
Negotiations between congressional leadership and the Administration on another relief package remain stalled and positions are also more likely to become entrenched as the November elections approach, creating the possibility of no deal being reached. CSWE will continue to advocate for funding priorities in another relief package, and will work to ensure social work education and research priorities are included in a final bill.
The Office of Minority Health will host a virtual symposium from 12:00 – 6:00 pm ET, September 17, 2020 on Advancing the Response to COVID-19: Sharing Promising Programs and Practices for Racial and Ethnic Minority Communities. Registration is now open and for more event details please visit https://www.minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/Content.aspx?ID=17502&lvl=2&lvlid=12.
CSWE SPARK! is the online community designed to spark conversation, share ideas, and collaborate with social work faculty and other professionals from around the world.
For advocacy and policy updates, and federal agency funding opportunities relevant to social work, please visit the CSWE SPARK! Advocacy and Policy Community page here.