U.S. Reps say more public policy social workers needed

Feb 24, 2014

By Paul R. Pace, News staff

Two members of Congress who are also social workers emphasized the need for more social workers in politics at a Public Policy Roundtable discussion in Washington, D.C., in December.

U.S Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., left, speaks during a Public Policy Roundtable discussion in Washington, D.C., in December. Stephen Gorin, executive director of the NASW New Hampshire Chapter, is at right.

U.S. Reps. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., spoke to social work leaders, including Angelo McClain, NASW CEO; and Darla Spence Coffey, president of the Council on Social Work Education, at the meeting. The event was hosted by NASW in conjunction with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Shea-Porter, who served as a volunteer relief worker in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, noted that her disaster-relief experience inspired her decision to run for Congress.

“I carry over our work on the Hill,” she said of social workers. “I hear you are asked to do so much with so little.”

Shea-Porter emphasized the need to fight against federal spending cuts that affect food stamps, Social Security and Medicare.

“It’s astounding to reduce food stamps when we have high unemployment – we have to stay vigilant and shout about this,” said Shea-Porter, who represents New Hampshire’s 1st District.

The lawmaker also noted that social workers are desperately needed to serve in Washington as well in other public policy roles.

“Before policy comes politics,” she said. “And if we duck out or turn our backs and say (politics is) too ugly, it’s too depressing, then you don’t get the policy that you need. That’s why I do this.”

Shea-Porter said even though sharp bipartisanship politics in Congress continues to stall bills, it’s important that social workers not shy away from the difficult job of serving in public office.

“We do need people who care about other people and understand other people’s lives and are involved in politics,” she said.

Sinema, who started her first term in Congress in January 2013, said her journey from direct practice social work to Capitol Hill arose from a desire to change lives on a macro level.

“In my campaign, we did not tell people that I was an attorney or a politician. We told them I was a social worker — that is the core of who I am,” said Sinema, who previously served in her home state’s House of Representatives and Senate. “It shows your community where your priorities and values are — that you care deeply about creating a different climate for communities so that folks can gain the tools they need to be successful.”

She noted she was inspired to be a social worker from an aunt, who has an MSW.

“I tell my students I did direct practice but I couldn’t do it after the first year. I teach my students you can do direct practice and macro,” said Sinema, who serves in Arizona’s 9th District.

Stephen Gorin, executive director of the NASW New Hampshire Chapter, attended the meeting and stressed the need to support the future of Social Security and Medicare.

Shea Porter and Sinema agreed that showcasing personal stories of how program cuts will impact people is one way to win over votes from political opponents.

Finding a common ground with lawmakers who have opposing views is also a strategy, Sinema noted.

“It’s about bringing people (with opposing views) to where they are at and being respectful of their zones and going from there,” she said.

From the February 2014 NASW News.