News from the Hill

March 2010

Political Climate
Other than the year-long health care battle, which appears to be approaching an end game through the reconciliation process, Capitol Hill is focused on two primary issues.  One is the budgetary process.  President Obama has submitted his budgetary requests to Congress, but it is up to the House and Senate to actually create the budget itself.  NASW is lobbying extensively in areas where we want to see the President’s figures maintained or even increased in the final budget.  The other issue is reelection campaigns.  Although it is only March, each passing year seems to generate polling data earlier in the election cycle.  While many republican challengers are off to a strong start, it is important to remember that it’s always easier for a challenger to criticize the majority than it is to demonstrate what they would do differently if elected.  So while the GOP has recruited many capable candidates this cycle, they have not been asked to fully explain their own policy agenda at this point, nor have they borne the brunt of Democratic counter attacks.  Thus, it is important to let the 2010 election cycle mature for a few more months before forecasting too many races.

Health Care Reform Update
Democratic Congressional leaders are working to finalize their compromise health care reform legislation. On March 15, the House Budget Committee voted 21-16 to report favorably the healthcare reconciliation package.  The measure now moves to the Rules committee and possible final vote in the House by Saturday, March 20.   As negotiations continue, the Congressional Budget Office is determining the cost of the bill.   The measure will then be reviewed by all members of Congress to ensure there are enough votes for passage. The reconciliation process is complex and can be delayed considerably by Senate floor amendments, but supporters believe this is their only way of securing passage of the critical measure.  The reconciliation process is a normal legislative process and has been used repeatedly to pass major health care laws. NASW is following closely the process and anticipates calling on all social workers to support the bill, once legislative details are fleshed out. For more about NASW’s activities in this area, please see our special webpage here.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
On March 9, the Senate voted down an amendment put forward by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) that included a six month-extension of the TANF Emergency fund established in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). It is expected that this amendment will be brought up again. States are relying on the TANF Emergency Fund to provide basic cash assistance, short-term benefits, and subsidized employment programs to increasing numbers of poor families with children.  Currently, thirty states and the District of Columbia have used this fund to create more than 100,000 jobs for low-income parents.

State Budget Cuts Impact Child Welfare Programs
At a time when demand for child welfare services is growing and more investments are needed to increase the number of child welfare workers and improve their working conditions, salaries and benefits, the faltering economy is driving record state budget deficits and reductions in child welfare services.  NPR aired a 2-part story on this issue.  In part 1, Michael Petit, a social worker, NASW member, and President and Founder of Every Child Matters, was quoted regarding the state budget cuts.   Part 2 addressed the long term consequences of these cuts.

Recently, many of you wrote to Congress in support of the “We Can Do Better” campaign, part of a multi-organizational strategy to garner federal government support for child welfare.  In addition, NASW has launched a “Child Welfare Initiative,” to strengthen the system. A key component of this initiative is to advocate for public policies that improve social workers’ ability to protect our nation’s vulnerable children and families.

NASW’s legislative agenda for the remainder of the Session of Congress includes increasing sponsorship of the Child Welfare Workforce Improvement Act (S. 2837), the Teri Zenner Social Worker Safety Act (H.R. 1490), and the reauthorization of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA).

Please urge your members of Congress to take action on these bills to make child well-being a national priority.

Professional Social Work Month Resolution Introduced
On March 11, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter introduced a resolution, H. Res. 1167 to honor and recognize “with gratitude the contributions of the millions of caring individuals who have chosen to serve their communities through social work” during Professional Social Work Month.   To view the full resolution, go here.

NASW Cosponsors Public Health Briefing
On March 2, over 80 congressional staff and interested organizations participated in the 6th annual Public Health Briefing 101 entitled, “Building Capacity to Meet America’s Mounting Health Needs” hosted by the Coalition for Health Funding.   The briefing provided information about the public health continuum and its needs.  NASW was a cosponsor of the briefing.  To view the presentation of the briefing speakers, go here.

HHS Secretary Testifies Before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee
On March 10, Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Kathleen Sebelius testified about the FY 2011 HHS budget request before the Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee.   In her testimony, Secretary Sebelius noted that the HHS budget “promotes projects that will rebuild our economy by investing in next generation research and the advanced development of technology that will help us find cures for diseases, innovative new treatments, and new ways to keep Americans safe, whether we are facing a pandemic or a potential terrorist attack.”  In addition, Secretary Sebelius testified on HHS’ proposed investment in the NIH, public health preparedness, health IT, increasing the public health workforce and on-going prevention efforts.   To view Secretary Sebelius’ testimony, go here.

DeGette, Castle Introduce Stem Cell Bill
On March 10, Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Mike Castle (R-DE) introduced H.R. 4808, the Stem Cell Research Advancement Act “to ensure a lasting ethical framework” for human stem cell research at NIH. According to a statement issued by Reps. DeGette and Castle, the Stem Cell Research Advancement Act) builds on President Obama’s March 2009 Executive Order overturning former President Bush’s restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

NASW recognizes the significant ethical issues raised about embryonic stem cell research, as well as the variety of views and opinions on such research.  However, there is evidence that stem cell research shows great promise, both for persons suffering from a range of illnesses and for streamlining and expediting the development of new medications.   To view the full press release, go here.

Congress Advances Medicare Rate Provisions

For the past several weeks the Senate has considered temporary legislative provisions that would halt the so-called Medicare “physician fee cut” that sets Part B payment rates for clinical social workers and all independent Medicare outpatient providers. The legislation also restores a separate five-percent cut that hit Medicare psychotherapy rates on the first of this year. NASW expects this temporary measure will be completed soon, but a longer-term correction will be necessary later this year. For background on the complex issues involving clinical social fees, see NASW’s advocacy blog posts here.

Senate Hearing on Childhood Obesity
Consistent with First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to confront the issue of childhood obesity, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions heard testimony on March 4, 2010, about the prevalence of obesity among America’s youth. Panelists included Dr. Regina Benjamin, U.S. Surgeon General; Dr. Joseph Thompson, Director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center to Prevent Childhood Obesity; Dr. Sandra Hassink, Chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Obesity Leadership Workgroup; and Pittsburgh Steelers Running Back Rashard Mendenhall.

NASW recognizes childhood obesity as an major public health concern, with significant implications for future U.S. health care costs. Obese children are being diagnosed with health problems previously considered to be “adult” illnesses, such as Type II diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, and fatty liver disease. Overweight and obese children are at risk for a host of serious future illnesses, including heart disease, stroke, and certain types of cancer. Obesity and related complications disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minority children and children living in poverty.

NASW applauds Congress’ acknowledgment of this multi-dimensional issue and its efforts to address it. To view the hearing’s video and for more information, go here.

Social Work Reinvestment
NASW Executive Director Dr. Elizabeth Clark and senior NASW staff recently met with Congressman John Lewis to discuss TANF reauthorization as well as his support of the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act. Congressman Lewis knew Whitney Young well and had spoken with Dr. Height recently and remarked that they would want him to be a supporter of the bill. If you are his constituent, thank Congressman Lewis today or write your own Representative thanking them for their support. Contact your Senators as well.

One of the key provisions of the Act is the social work reinvestment commission. Such a commission would address social work workforce shortages and develop recommendations and strategies to ensure that social workers can continue to provide services and resources to an ever-increasing client base. NASW is working with House and Senate appropriators to obtain report language that focuses on placing the social work reinvestment commission in the FY11 Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services bills in the House and Senate.   The other proposed report language is focused on developing opportunities for social workers to conduct research. According to the Congressional Research Service, report language is detailed guidance to federal departments and agencies outlined in appropriations bills that may require or encourage departments or agencies to take specified action or refrain from taking a certain action.

Recently Dr. Elizabeth Clark and senior members of NASW staff met with Ms. Justine Sarver, Deputy Chief of Staff of Health and Human Services (HHS); Pamela Hyde, Administrator, SAMHSA; Mary Wakefield, Administrator, HRSA; Bryan Samuels, Commissioner, Administration for Children, Youth and Families; Dr. H. Westley Clark, Director, Substance Abuse Treatment, SAMHSA; and Irene Hsu, Special Assistant, Office of the Chief of Staff.  Our meeting centered on the need for HHS to establish a time-limited, high level commission to specifically look at issues facing the social work workforce across all of the fields and roles that are critical to HHS.  Workforce issues are of importance throughout HHS, so we also discussed ways we could collaborate to address needs specific to each area.

Women’s History Month
March is Women’s History Month and NASW’S longstanding advocacy as well as success on women’s issues prompted an invitation from the Women in Politics Institute to attend a panel discussion and reception acknowledging the contributions of women in government, including those within the Obama Administration.  The event will occur on March 23, 2010 at the Katzen Arts Center on the campus of American University located in Washington, D.C.  Invited guests include the following luminaries: The Honorable Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, U.S. Department of State; Tina Tchen, Director, White House Office of Public Engagement;  and Anita McBride, Former Chief of Staff to First Lady Laura Bush.

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