News from the Hill – January 2010

Jan 18, 2010

Social Work Reinvestment

The Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act continues to be a major focus of NASW. The bill currently has 80 House cosponsors and 11 Senate cosponsors and we need your help to secure more! Contact your Senators and Representative today in support of this important bill. NASW is working with the House Committee on Education and Labor to promote support with all members for the legislation.

NASW continues to support social work reinvestment provisions within health care reform and is seeking inclusion of the language in the final health care reform bill.

NASW recently sent a letter to President Obama’s staff asking for his support of a Social Work Reinvestment Commission. The letter cites a workforce shortage in the profession, along with an increasing demand for social work services. It further states, “the President has outlined a commitment to the values that drive the social work profession including service to others in need and the pursuit of social justice. For these reasons, we encourage the President to support the Social Work Reinvestment Commission which will help ensure that social workers can continue to provide services in numerous settings throughout the nation.”

Political Climate

Democrats were chastened by Massachusetts voters on January 19 when Republican Scott Brown defeated Democrat Martha Coakley for the Massachusetts Senate seat left vacant by the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy.  Voters have loudly expressed their concern by defeating a highly favored Democrat in a state widely regarded as the most Democratic of all.  The outcome of this race has already resonated throughout Washington, and could result in Democrats taking smaller, more measured steps in their proposed legislative agenda throughout the year.  The number of Senators has dropped from 60 to 59, although not every bill will be so threatened by filibuster that 60 votes will be necessary on each occasion.  Still, the political landscape has changed decisively now that Republicans hold a large enough minority to sustain leverage against the White House and Congressional Democrats.

From January 20 forward, legislative outcomes are bound to have a more bipartisan hue for the rest of the year and possibly beyond.

Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) Reauthorization

TANF is set to expire September 30, 2010. As such, NASW is working in coalition with other organizations to influence the reauthorization of TANF. It is believed that the House will introduce a bill to reauthorize TANF in February. During the last reauthorization, Congress extended TANF for short periods of time before reauthorizing it. We expect this may be the case again. Advocates are looking to add a number of items to the TANF reauthorization. One change is to suspend, at least until economic recovery has been achieved, the five year time limit imposed by Congress on receipt of TANF benefits. Another change would be to raise benefit levels at least to the official federal poverty guideline. Also, advocates would like to see countable work activities defined more broadly. Advocates encourage full family sanctions to be prohibited. TANF reauthorization should eliminate the mandatory cooperation requirement for child support and make the family violence option a requirement. Advocates call for the elimination of all restrictions on legally present immigrants. Advocates are also calling for a return to the matching funding system rather than the current block grant system.

Surgeon General Sworn In

On Monday, January 11, Dr. Regina Benjamin was sworn in as the 18th U. S. Surgeon General. Dr. Benjamin is founder and former CEO of the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic in Alabama, former Associate Dean for Rural Health at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine in Mobile, and immediate past chair of the Federation of State Medical Boards of the United States. The Surgeon General serves as America’s chief health educator by providing Americans the best scientific information available on how to improve their health and reduce the risk of illness and injury.  Dr. Benjamin said her top priorities as surgeon general will be wellness and prevention.

DC Voting Rights Act

NASW continues work on the D.C. Voting Rights Act (H.R.157/S.160) which passed the Senate on February 26, 2009 but was stalemated in the House of Representatives due to a controversial gun amendment sponsored by Senator John Ensign (R-NV).  The D.C. Voting Rights Act provides the District of Columbia voting representation by adding one seat in the House of Representatives and balancing that with an additional seat for the primarily Republican leaning Utah, which is the next state scheduled to pick up a seat according to the census count. The Association in concert with traditional civil rights allies, as well as local partners, is asking President Obama to convey his support for this legislation to the nation during his January 27, 2010, State of the Union Address.

Democrats Regroup on Strategy for Health Care Reform

Congressional Democrats are currently recalibrating their strategy to pass health care reform after the loss of a Senate seat in Massachusetts. NASW advocates that Congress not abandon the goal of enactment of comprehensive health care reform legislation. For decades NASW and the social work profession have called on Congress to enact comprehensive health reform through the legislative process and social workers have supported the tremendous progress Congress has made this past year. But now Congress is moving away from comprehensive reform legislation and considering scaling back to much more limited objectives. NASW advocates that Congress stay on track, and our recent action alert is here. More information on health care reform is available on NASW’s Web page.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Parity Update

The Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA) became effective for most private health plans on January 1, 2010, but federal agency regulations defining how it will be interpreted have not been cleared by the Administration. Thus health insurance carriers, which must have their 2010 plan benefits in compliance in the absence of any regulations, may be uncertain or confused about exactly what mental health and substance abuse benefits are required to be equivalent to medical and surgical benefits they offer.

According to a HHS/CMS website here, the now current federal law applies to two different types of coverage: large group self-funded group health plans and large group fully insured group health plans. Some state’s insurance regulations may also contain additional coverage protections for fully insured group health plans or individual coverage. MHPAEA is designed to prevent large group health plans from imposing financial requirements and treatment limitations on mental health and substance use disorder (MH/SUD) benefits that are more restrictive than financial requirements and treatment limitations on medical/surgical benefits.  MHPAEA also prevents large group health plans from placing annual or lifetime dollar limits on mental health and substance abuse benefits that are lower than annual or lifetime dollar limits for medical/surgical benefits offered under the plan.

The law does not apply to small group health plans or health insurance coverage in the individual (non-employment based) market, but individual state law may require mental health parity in such cases. MHPAEA defines large group health plans as those with more than 50 workers and does not apply to group health plans sponsored by employers with fewer than 51 workers. Federal summary information about the law is available here and NASW has prepared its own summary, posted here and shown under January 2009.

NASW Partners with Every Child Matters

An October 2009 report from Every Child Matters indicates that 10,440 U.S. children died from abuse and neglect in their homes between 2001-2007— this is more than double the number of American fatalities in two wars during the same period. In fact, there was a 35 percent increase in child maltreatment deaths during 2001-2007. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the many who have worked countless hours addressing child maltreatment, the U.S. continues to fall short of protecting its youngest citizens. Seventy-five percent of fatalities in 2007 were children ages four or younger, and almost half were under the age of one. Seventy percent of these fatalities involved caregivers, many of whom are young parents, experiencing depression and substance abuse, living in poverty and in many instances, victims of violence themselves. With millions of families facing severe economic stress, overburdened state child protection systems and state budget cuts, the number of child maltreatment deaths could continue to increase.

As a national organization committed to child well-being, NASW is alarmed and concerned by the escalating number of child maltreatment deaths across the country. As a result, we are partnering with Every Child Matters, the National Children’s Alliance, and the National District Attorneys Association to urge Congress to step forward and keep a bad situation from becoming worse by:

  • holding high-visibility public hearings,
  • providing emergency funds to stop state cuts in child protective services, and
  • adopting a national strategy to end maltreatment deaths.

NASW has taken several steps to communicate our efforts with our members, Congress, and the public. We’ve included advertisements in numerous publications, posted an alert on our website, and wrote letters to the social work members of Congress urging them to support a White House conference on children and families.

You can view materials on this project here.

Focus on Gerontology: Managing the Aging Baby Boomers

Focus on Gerontology: Managing the Aging Baby Boomers

By Peter Craig The aging baby boomer population is reaching critical mass. In 2020, according to the Census Bureau, that group numbered some 73 million—the second-largest segment of the U.S. population after Millennials—with 55.8 million of boomers, or 16.8% of the...