December 20, 2018 Compass
ED Secretary DeVos Addresses Financial Aid Conference
CMMI Plans to Address Social Determinants of Health
Census Bureau to Test Controversial Citizenship Question
CSWE and the Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR) submitted a joint response to a request for input from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) in the National Institutes of Health regarding topics the NIA should integrate into its next strategic plan. CSWE and SSWR support the NIA’s mission of addressing social, economic, and biomedical challenges to promote the health and well-being of older adults. One recommendation is to increase prioritization of stakeholder input, an area in which social work researchers are well-positioned to assist. The letter also recommends a greater focus on interprofessional health-care studies integrating the breadth of the workforce and continued growth of the geriatric health-care provider workforce. Additionally, the letter encourages the NIA to help leverage technology with careful reflection on how it can help increase access to quality care without increasing health disparities.
With significant turnover on Capitol Hill going into the 116th Congress, the delegation of social workers in Washington has experienced some change as well. Three incumbent social workers from the 115th Congress did not seek reelection in 2018 and will retire at the end of the year: Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH), and Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-MA).
Incumbent social workers who ran for reelection in 2018—Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA), Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA)—were reelected. Rep. Davis probably will continue to serve on the House Education and Workforce Committee, where she has introduced legislation to reduce the student loan burden and supported other higher education affordability measures. Rep. Bass was elected chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and probably will continue to serve on the House Judiciary Committee, where she has supported legislation aimed at reforming the youth foster care system and improving the status of incarcerated individuals. Rep. Lee will serve as a co-chair of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, which makes decisions regarding congressional committee assignments. Rep. Lee probably will continue to serve on the House Appropriations and Budget Committees, which determine annual funding levels for the federal government.
Sylvia Garcia (D-TX), a social worker earlier in her career, was newly elected to Congress. Garcia previously served as a Texas State Senator, where she passed legislation aimed at ending human trafficking and increasing child safety.
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who has a social work background, won election to the U.S. Senate. Sinema will join Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), who won her reelection bid, as the second social worker currently in the Senate. Although Sinema’s committee assignments have not been decided, she was the sponsor of the Social Worker Safety Act in the House, which authorizes grants to states to pay for workplace safety measures for social workers. Sen. Stabenow will continue to serve as chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, which helps set and communicate the legislative priorities of Senate Democrats.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos recently addressed the Federal Student Aid Training Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. In her remarks she commented on the myStudentAid mobile app, which allows mobile completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid; the importance of financial literacy in helping students make informed decisions about higher education; and the state of the federal student loan portfolio. Secretary DeVos noted, “We have a crisis in higher education. Our higher ed system is the envy of the world, but if we, as a country, do not make important policy changes in the way we distribute, administer, and manage federal student loans, the program on which so many students rely will be in serious jeopardy.” This and other observations made by Secretary DeVos are in line with positions held by the Trump Administration that the federal government has a monopoly on financing higher education. This argument also charges that increases in financial aid have led to institutions of higher education raising tuition. Significant changes in student loans would require action by Congress, probably through a comprehensive reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). Although there are diverging opinions about federal involvement in student aid, there is a growing consensus that the federal government’s burgeoning student loan portfolio will require action by policymakers.
On November 14, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar and Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) Director Adam Boehler indicated plans for a new demonstration program to address social determinants of health. Secretary Azar described his vision for a new model that would allow organizations to pay for services affecting social determinants, such as housing, nutrition, and other social services. "Social determinants would be important to HHS even if all we did was healthcare services, but at HHS, we cover health and human services, all under one roof," said Secretary Azar.
According to Director Boehler, CMMI’s early stage demonstration would build on the Obama Administration’s Accountable Health Communities model. The model probably would offer single payments to accountable care entities to help support participating beneficiaries’ broader needs. Director Boehler noted the importance of offering providers increased incentives and authority to address social determinants of health. He also mentioned plans to work with other federal agencies, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Administration for Community Living, to support CMMI’s efforts.
The Census Bureau announced plans on December 6 to field test a new 2020 Census form that includes a question on the citizenship status of respondents. Results are expected by fall 2019, months before the full census in January 2020. Previously planned trials had mostly been scrapped due to budget overruns. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced in March that the question would be added to the 2020 Census. Many communities fear this question would depress response rates to the survey, which is used to determine allocations of nearly $800 billion in federal spending as well as elected representation of congressional districts. Furthermore, the question’s impact has not been vetted or received evidence-based review.
The Federal Register received nearly 80,000 responses during the public comment period, including one on behalf of CSWE and SSWR. Seven lawsuits are challenging the addition of the question. With Democrats assuming control of the House of Representatives, investigations into this issue probably will occur. News last month suggested the existence of internal e-mails of the Trump Administration regarding sharing the census responses with law enforcement, a big concern regarding the intent of this question.
The Census Bureau has been operating under temporary leadership following the early retirement of the previous director. Census Bureau director nominee Steven Dillingham had a Senate confirmation hearing at the beginning of October, but may not be confirmed before his nomination expires at the end of this month. During his hearing Dillingham declined to express his views on the question, saying it will be resolved by the courts and he would follow their guidance.
The Department of Education has launched the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Help Tool to help borrowers understand more about the PSLF program, assess whether their employers qualify for PSLF, assist with submission of PSLF forms, and more. The tool can be accessed here (a Federal Student Aid login is required). Please let CSWE PPI know if you access the tool and whether you found it helpful.