The CSWE Public Policy Initiative (PPI) was on Capitol Hill to mark the start of the 116th Congress. The first day of a new Congress is usually a busy one and is especially so this year, as Republican control of the U.S. House of Representatives came to an end. The day was marked by the swearing-in of all U.S. representatives and new and reelected senators. Many congressional offices hosted open houses for the public to come and meet staff and congressional representatives. The CSWE PPI took the opportunity to meet with several congressional social work champions, including Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA), G. K. Butterfield (D-NC), and Katherine Clark (D-MA), and Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MN). CSWE and the National Association of Social Workers also provided a joint welcome letter to members of Congress. The letter notes the importance of social work and social work education to addressing many of the challenges facing the United States and encourages members to consider joining the Social Work Caucus.
On December 12, CSWE President and CEO Darla Spence Coffey and the CSWE Public Policy Initiative attended the Eldercare Workforce Alliance’s (EWA) biannual full alliance meeting. EWA is a coalition of 31 national organizations that seek to address immediate and future workforce needs for the nation’s elderly population. The meeting provided an opportunity to review EWA’s objectives and achievements; discuss communications policies and regulatory strategies; and address governance and operational issues. Several government officials also reported on federal programs of importance to CSWE members, including Nina Tumosa of the Health Resources and Services Administration, who updated the group on recent funding opportunities for the Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program and the Geriatrics Academics Career Award program. Other discussion topics included an update on geriatrics training legislation in the Senate, the need to incorporate social determinants in the alliance’s future materials, and immigration policies affecting caregivers.
On December 17 Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) announced he would not seek reelection in 2020. Senator Alexander is chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee and is expected to continue holding the position for the remainder of his term. With 2 years left before retirement, Senator Alexander may approach the 116th Congress with a renewed urgency to reach bipartisan agreement on several of his legislative priorities, including a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and legislation to lower health-care and prescription drug costs.
In other Senate news, the Senate voted to confirm Stephen Dillingham as the census director.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos spoke to several higher education leaders last month about her vision for higher education. Her remarks focused on the need to “rethink education,” a theme that has been consistent for the U.S. Department of Education (ED) under her leadership. Regarding accreditation, Secretary DeVos remarked, “The current accreditation system, for instance, is costly, it favors the status quo, and it stymies competition.” She also discussed the need to reduce burdensome regulations, encourage innovation, and the upcoming negotiated rulemaking on accreditation and innovation. ED also released two white papers, one on higher education broadly and another on accreditation reform. The proposal on accreditation reform focused on the accreditation triad, recognition of accrediting agencies, and encouraging innovative practices, among other issues.
On December 18 the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement announced plans to relax a security requirement that was creating additional barriers to sponsoring migrant children. Previously, all members of a household in which a child would be sponsored were required to be fingerprinted. With the change in the rule, fingerprints will be required only from the adult sponsoring the minor, which should make it faster to place children with their families. At the peak in mid-December, 15,000 migrant children were being housed in roughly 100 permanent and two temporary sites. At present, 12,400 children remain in federal custody. These children are part of the larger debate about fiscal year (FY) 2019 appropriations and the money President Trump is demanding for a border wall with Mexico. Stories of neglect and abuse continue to make headlines.
On December 18 the Federal Commission on School Safety released its final report, which has received a mixed reception. The report made little mention of the role of guns and recommended more coordination between schools and law enforcement, among other ideas for states and school districts to consider. Recommendations made by the report relevant to social work include supporting care coordination by providers such as social workers and including social workers in school security management teams. The report also recommended that 2014 school discipline guidance from the Obama Administration meant to address racial disparities be rescinded. The Department of Education acted on this recommendation and has withdrawn the guidance. The incoming chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor, Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA), said the report’s recommendations “undermine policies that protect students' civil rights" and was not a "serious or good-faith effort" to make schools safer. CSWE submitted comments to the Commission and has drafted principles regarding school safety and gun violence. CSWE will continue to advocate for policies that support a comprehensive approach and incorporate behavioral health, mental health, and social services.
The Health Resources and Services Administration has released its projections for the behavioral health workforce for 2016–2030, as mandated in the 21st Century Cures Act. This assessment was conducted for each major category of behavioral health occupations, including social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and addiction counselors. The analysis is conducted in two ways; one assumes an equilibrium in which current demand is met by the current supply, and the other uses calculations based on data suggesting that 20% of the population has unmet behavioral health needs resulting from various barriers to access. In either scenario the supply of incoming social workers with graduate degrees is expected to be adequate for demands, assuming there are no major changes in the current delivery care pattern and geographic distribution of providers and receivers of care.
The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) is accepting applications to the newly launched National Health Service Corp (NHSC) Substance Use Disorder Workforce Loan Repayment Program. “Eligible clinicians may receive up to $75,000 in student loan repayment in exchange for a three-year commitment to provide substance use disorder treatment services at NHSC-approved sites.” This is an expansion of the current NHSC program, as directed by Congress, to combat the opioid crisis. Behavioral health professionals, including licensed clinical social workers, are eligible to apply. Applications are being accepted through February 21.