News from the Hill

April 2010 – First Edition

Political Climate
After Health Care Reform was signed into law, Congress left on a much needed recess in late March and early April.  Politically speaking, most Members of Congress are trying to improve their polling numbers at a time when many Americans have expressed anti-incumbent sentiments.  As a result, legislators don’t seem to have much appetite for especially controversial bills through the late spring and summer.  Both parties want to avoid negative attention; Republicans because it could hinder their potential electoral gains in November and Democrats because they want to limit whatever losses they could suffer in the House and Senate.  Still, the budgetary process awaits Congress upon their return.  That always involves a certain amount of partisan wrangling, especially at a time when Congress simply must fund certain programs while remaining mindful of the federal deficit and possible arguments that they are spending too much money.

NASW Releases “Legal Issue of the Month” on Federal Parity Rules
Social workers now have an important resource available to understand the new federal mental health parity law. NASW has just released its April 2010 issue of Legal Issue of the Month, which provides an overview of new interim final regulations for the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addictions Equity Act of 2008 (Parity Act). Three federal agencies are responsible for implementing the Parity Act rules, and they have jointly issued a set of interim final rules that detail requirements for health plans subject to the new law.  The much-anticipated regulations provide a 90-day public comment period, ending May 3, 2010, and NASW is currently preparing extensive comments on the new rules that advocate for the interests of consumers and the profession.

The Interim Parity Rule became effective April 5, 2010, and is generally applicable to health plans with plan years beginning on or after July 1, 2010.  The Legal Issue of the Month article provides a summary of the regulations to aid in understanding whether patients’ rights are being effectively protected under the new law. The new issue appears here and NASW members must login in with their userID and password to access the article.

Professional Social Worker Services in Health Care Reform
Wondering what’s in the new health care reform law to advance the social work profession? NASW recently released a very popular briefing on the various ways the new law will directly impact the social work profession. Interested social workers may view it here.

White House Provides Resources on Health Care Reform Law
The White House website offers a wide array of materials to explain the new federal health care reform law and its impact on consumers, providers, businesses and payers.  You may find these resources helpful as you seek reliable information and explanations of the complex new law. Social workers that wish to learn more about the law in easily understood briefing sheets should see the White House website here.

What About Medicare Rates for Part B Practitioners?
Many NASW members have recently contacted the national office requesting information about pending legislation to address Medicare billing rates for all Part B independent practitioners, including clinical social workers. Since Congress has been recessed for the past two weeks, there has been no new action since our last update. It may be found here. The Senate is expected to pass this provision by April 16.

Time is Running Out! Reinvest in the Profession.
With less than 60 days left in the Congressional calendar, we are running out of time in the 111th Congress to pass the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act (H.R. 795/S. 686). Contact your Representative and Senators TODAY in support of this bill. We really need your help if you are represented by any members of the House Committee on Education and Labor. We already have 83 cosponsors in the House and 12 in the Senate but if we are unsuccessful in passing this bill, we will have to start over in the 112th Congress.

Congressman Towns Contacts President Obama and Secretary Sebelius in Support of Social Work
The lead sponsor of the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act, Congressman and social worker Ed Towns (D-NY) sent a letter to the President and Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) urging them to establish a Social Work Reinvestment Commission within the HHS. Rep. Towns says that, “social workers are a key resource for the nation’s most vulnerable populations including older adults, children, the impoverished, veterans, and people at risk for disparate health and behavioral health services access.” He goes on to state that workforce challenges are preventing our profession from recruiting and retaining enough social workers to keep pace with the increasing demand for our services. Rep. Towns states that, “The federal government has previously invested in comparable professions such as nursing and teaching when faced with workforce shortages. We now much focus on social work by establishing this Commission…” NASW thanks Rep. Towns for his unwavering support of the profession.

Help for Veterans Who are Homeless
Not long after Barack Obama was elected President, he worked closely with Eric Shinseki, Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), on eliminating homelessness among people who are veterans.  The issue became so important that Sec. Shinseki publicly stated that he wanted to completely end veteran homelessness by 2015.

The VA is taking some immediate steps to aid homeless veterans.  Recently, a webpage was created  on the VA site.  If you know or work with a veteran who is homeless, please pass this information along to them.

Congressional Hearing about Educating Diverse Students
The House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education held a hearing on March 18, 2010 titled “Elementary and Secondary Education Act Reauthorization: Addressing the Needs of Diverse Students.”  The purpose of the hearing was to examine how schools can appropriately educate low-income, minority, English Language Learners, disabled, Native American, and homeless students within the context of reauthorizing  the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently known as the No Child Left Behind Act.

This goal was expressed by Subcommittee Chairman Representative Dale Kildee (D-MI) in his opening statement: “While the No Child Left Behind Act shed light on the inequalities in our education system, it unfortunately did not do enough to close the achievement gap for diverse students…This must be a top priority for future steps in education reform.”

To this end, the Subcommittee considered recommendations from a panel of educators, advocates, and a researcher working to close the achievement gap for diverse students. They included Dr. Daniel Curry, Superintendent for the Lake Forest School District in Felton, Delaware, Dr. Jack Dale, Superintendent for Fairfax County Public Schools in Falls Church, Virginia, Arelis Diaz, Assistant Superintendent for Godwin Heights Public Schools in Wyoming, Michigan, Dr. David Gipp, President of United Tribes Technical College (UTTC), Jacqui Farmer Kearns, Principal Investigator for the National Alternate Assessment Center, and Michael Wotorson, Executive Director of Campaign for High School Equity.

To read the transcript go to http://edlabor.house.gov/hearings/ecese/

Reauthorizing ESEA: the Obama Administration’s Blueprint
On March 17, 2010, Education Secretary Arne Duncan testified before the House Education and Labor Committee on the Obama Administration’s newly released blueprint for revamping the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently known as the No Child Left Behind Act. He focused on the themes of college and career readiness, accountability for all students, and incentives for states to improve their approach to educating our nation’s students. The Committee expressed a strong commitment to working with the Administration in rewriting the law. In his opening statement, Chairman George Miller said “the President’s blueprint lays important markers for us as we begin this rewrite.” To view the full statement click here http://edlabor.house.gov/hearings/full-committee/

NASW, independently and in collaboration with the National Alliance of Pupil Serving Organizations (NAPSO), recently submitted comments for the Chairman to consider as Congress gears up to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act https://www.socialworkers.org/advocacy/issues/education/default.asp

The President Signs Education Overhaul Bill into Law
On March 30, 2010, President Obama signed into law the Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act (H.R. 4872). NASW strongly supported this bill and has tirelessly advocated for the creation of public policies that make health care and higher education more affordable and accessible for all Americans. The higher education provisions are expected to generate significant savings by redirecting lender subsidies to boost Pell Grant scholarships, expand the Income Based Repayment Program, increase the number of students who enter and complete college, including community colleges, and invest over $2 billion in Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and minority serving institutions (MSI) to provide students with the support they need to stay in school. The bill passed the House and Senate on March 25 with a Democratic vote of 220-207 and 56 to 43, respectively.

While some colleges and universities have already switched to direct lending, others are racing to switch from private lenders to the U.S. Department of Education by July 1, 2010. The lending overhaul, which would eliminate a program that subsidizes banks and other providers of federally backed loans, is projected to save the federal government $61 billion over 10 years with more than half of the savings channeled to Pell grants for low income students. More than 8 million low income students rely on these grants to fund their education.

For more information about our advocacy efforts to make higher education more affordable go to www.socialworkers.org/loanforgiveness

NASW Submits Written Testimony on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
In response to the hearing held on March 11 by the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support, NASW submitted written testimony. The testimony calls for enhancing the capacity of the welfare system infrastructure; reducing the number of families living in poverty; and improving assistance to recipients with multiple barriers to self-sufficiency.

Home Visiting Programs in the Health Care Bill
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed into law by President Obama on March 23 and includes $1.5 billion for home visitation services to states through the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program to support a range services to pregnant women and young children.   Home visiting programs have been proven to reduce or prevent child abuse in vulnerable families. States competing for these funds must conduct a statewide needs assessment to identify communities at risk including those with high concentrations of poverty, domestic violence, elevated rates of high school drop outs, and other indicators, and are required to demonstrate improvements for the families they serve. We encourage you to contact your state’s health department to consider ways to partner with them if they pursue these funds.

To learn about our efforts to advance public policies that support and protect children and families, go to http://www.socialworkers.org/advocacy/

ONAP Report Released
On April 9, the White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) released its Report of Community Recommendations for the National HIV/AIDS Strategy.  The report highlights community input regarding the National HIV/AIDS Strategy development.  To read the press release and report, go to:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2010/04/08/onap-releases-report-community-recommendations-national-hivaids-strategy

NASW Supports the Alzheimer’s Treatment and Caregiver Support Act
NASW recently joined over 50 aging organizations on a sign on letter in support of the Alzheimer’s Treatment and Caregiver Support Act (H.R. 4123/S. 2809).  The legislation would provide grants to public and non-profit organizations to improve treatment for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, and expand training and support services for caregivers.

The House bill was introduced by Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) on November 19, 2009 and has 68 cosponsors.   The Senate companion bill was introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) on November 20, 2009 and has no cosponsors.

The letter stated that “caregivers of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease face a variety of challenges and spend more time providing assistance than caregivers of people with other types of diseases.” It further states that “expanding access to training and support services would improve the ability of caregivers to provide effective, compassionate care and allow more people with Alzheimer’s disease to remain in their homes longer.”

NASW Submits Comments to the Task Force of Childhood Obesity
On March 26, NASW submitted comments to the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity to assist in developing the national action plan to solve the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation.

The comments addressed the role of social workers in addressing childhood obesity.  “Social workers across the nation address this issue daily, whether in individual practice with children and families, or within school systems, health care settings, community-based organizations or state agencies.”

The comments further stated, “If left unaddressed, the crisis of childhood obesity will translate into a steeper trajectory for our nation’s escalating health care costs. Moreover, the scope of childhood obesity in the U.S. portends the very real possibility of reduced life expectancy and diminished quality of life, as today’s children struggle with obesity-related illnesses as adults.”  Go here to read the full comments.  You can view the Childhood Obesity Forum here.

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