News from the Hill – December 2011

Dec 12, 2011

Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction Does Not Reach Agreement

The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, also known as the Super Committee, had a deadline of November 23 to find at least $1.2 trillion in spending cuts or tax revenues over 10 years. They could not reach an agreement. Under the Budget Control Act, if the Joint Select Committee could not reach an agreement automatic cuts would be triggered.  Those automatic cuts, known as “sequestration,” are now slated to take effect in January 2013. Some in Congress are vowing to not let sequestration hit the defense budget, but President Obama has vowed to veto any bill that aims to back out of the deal reached under the Budget Control Act.

NASW wrote a letter to the Joint Select Committee using stories from our members about the potential impact of cuts and urging the committee to submit recommendations that include sufficient revenue increases that reduce the deficit while preserving our ability to create jobs, rebuild the economy, and protect vulnerable people from the loss of vital services.


SGR Formula Remains Unresolved

On November 1, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) published its 2012 Medicare physician fee schedule which updates the payment rates for thousands of medical services and establishes other regulatory policy. Most finalized changes are effective January 1.  The proposed fee schedule that was released earlier this year had projected a 29.5% cut in 2012 as mandated by a budgetary mechanism called the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula, but CMS revised the figure to 27.4% in the final rule.

Despite the change, the fee schedule will serve as a stark reminder to Congress that there is a crisis in the Medicare program that only lawmakers can stop. Since 2003, Congress has taken steps to avert the cuts. Congress should do the same this year.  In addition, President Obama’s budget proposal included funding for a permanent solution to the SGR problem. 

In related news, Rep. Allyson Schwartz will soon introduce legislation to permanently repeal the SGR.  The Medicare Physician Payment Innovation Act of 2011 would fully repeal the SGR, stabilize current payment rates to ensure beneficiary access in the near-term, and set out a clear path toward comprehensive payment reform.  NASW will continue our support of addressing the need to fix the Medicare fee schedule and speak about the impact the SGR cuts will have on clinical social workers.


Political Climate

With the Super Committee having failed in its efforts to establish needed spending cuts, both Congress and state legislatures are contemplating the implications for 2013 (when automatic cuts are set to kick in).  On one hand, Congress will have a “lame duck” session following the 2012 elections in which they can alter or mitigate certain cuts, so it’s uncertain which areas will ultimately be affected.  Programs set to be slashed include child support enforcement, special education, Section 8 housing, and social services block grants.  There could also be a 2% reduction in Medicare costs.  On the other hand, many 2013 state budgets have to be approved in the spring of 2012.  This means that states will have to move forward without being certain what Congress will do in the wake of the 2012 election cycle.  Most states will likely plan for a worst-case scenario, potentially endangering several programs regardless of whether Congress saves them in the end.   

Incumbents, challengers, and candidates for open seats are undoubtedly fine-tuning their message on this issue, and voters should expect information from both parties and their affiliated organizations on exactly what this means for everyday Americans.  These potentially sweeping and severe cuts will leave their mark on local, state, and federal elections across the country.


NASW Supports the End Racial Profiling Act of 2011

As the Congressional recess approaches, NASW continues to advocate for the End Racial Profiling Act of 2011.  S.1670, sponsored by Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), would forbid the use of racial profiling by federal, state, or local law enforcement agencies.  S.1670 clearly defines racial profiling to include race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion as protected classes.

The bill requires training of law enforcement officers to ensure that they understand the law and its prohibitions.  Procedures would also be created for receiving, investigating and resolving complaints concerning racial profiling.  Equal application of S.1670 would apply to federal, state and local law enforcement, which creates consistent standards at all levels of government.

NASW and numerous other civil rights groups have long supported legislation banning racial profiling based not only on its discriminatory nature, but also because it perpetuates negative stereotypes.  Racial profiling adversely affects individual dignity as well as undermines the integrity of America’s criminal justice system.  NASW believes that Congress and the Department of Justice should take steps to prevent racial profiling and, ultimately, end its practice.


NASW Signs Letter to Congress about SAMSHA Funding

NASW joined over 70 addiction and mental health organizations in a letter urging funding of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at the Senate Appropriations Committee’s recommended level of $3,484,300,000 for fiscal year 2012. This is a reduction of $27.3 million from the FY 2011 level and approximately $80 million below the FY 2010 level for SAMHSA.  The letter stated, “While we understand the challenges you face in reducing the deficit, further cuts to critically important addiction and mental health services could pose a significant risk to public health and public safety”. Click here to read the full letter. 

On November 23, President Barack Obama nominated Marilyn Tavenner to succeed Dr. Donald Berwick as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) following the announcement of Dr. Berwick’s resignation.  Dr. Berwick began his tenure as CMS Administrator by a 2010 recess appointment but he never received a Senate confirmation hearing. Dr. Berwick resigned from the post on December 2.  Before joining CMS, Tavenner was an executive with the Hospital Corporation of America, a former secretary of health and human resources for the governor of Virginia and the former president of the Virginia Hospital Association. She also served as a board member of the American Hospital Association. Tavenner has a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing and a Master of Arts degree in health administration, both from Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond. The administration has named Tavenner acting administrator of CMS pending her confirmation by the Senate.  

NASW Sends CMS Comments on Medicaid Eligibility Expansions

NASW recently sent a letter outlining our recommendations to strengthen the proposed regulations regarding Medicaid’s changes.  The letter applauded the replacement of Medicaid’s complex categorical groupings and limitations with an expansion of Medicaid eligibility to all individuals under age 65 with incomes at or below 133% of the Federal poverty line (FPL). This important change will help reduce state-by-state variation in eligibility for Medicaid. More importantly, it will make the Medicaid program accessible to an often overlooked, yet vulnerable, population – low-income adults under age 65 without dependent children. 

In addition, NASW included the following recommendation to recommendations to strengthen the proposed regulations:

  • Raise the income threshold for Medicaid Eligibility/Individuals Above 133 Percent FPL
  • Revisit the residency definition for Adults Age 21 and Over and Residency for CHIP Eligibility
  • Craft Medicaid/CHIP applications, forms and other communications at a basic language level
  • Consider the impact of the proposed rules on children and adults in complex family coverage situations


To read the full, letter, click here



NASW Supports the Half in Ten Act

On November 1, social worker Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced the Half in Ten Act, H.R. 3300, which aims to reduce poverty in half in ten years. The legislation will establish a Federal Interagency Working Group on Reducing Poverty to develop and implement a national plan and work toward eradicating extreme poverty, child poverty, and the persistent disparity in poverty rates found in communities of color. The bill currently has 56 cosponsors. See NASW’s letter of support.  NASW is an endorsing organization of the Half in Ten campaign which has the same goal as the bill.

President Obama Announces $50 Million for AIDS Programs on World AIDS Day

On December 1, World AIDS Day, President Obama said his administration is committing an additional $15 million for the Ryan White program, which supports HIV medical clinics in the U.S., as well as an additional $35 million for state AIDS Drug Assistance Programs. President Barack Obama has charged federal agencies to implement the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which includes addressing and preventing employment-related discrimination against people living with HIV.  To read about NASW’s recognition of World AIDS Day, click here.


House Names Capitol Visitor’s Center Room after Gabriel Zimmerman

On December 1, the House voted unanimously to pass H. Res. 364 – Designate Gabriel Zimmerman Meeting Room.  This resolution designates room HVC 215 of the Capitol Visitor Center as the “Gabriel Zimmerman Meeting Room.”  On January 8, a gunman attempted to assassinate Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) in Tucson, Arizona. Giffords was seriously wounded, and six others were killed, including social worker and NASW member Gabriel Zimmerman, Giffords’ director of community outreach.   He was the first congressional staffer in history to be murdered in the performance of his official duties. NASW worked on behalf of this legislation passing.


Rep. Towns Introduces the Student Achievement Through Increased Student Support Act

On November 15, Representative Towns reintroduced the Increased Student Achievement Through Increased Student Support Act, H.R. 3405, a bill that would increase the recruitment and retention of , school social workers, school psychologists, and school counselors by high-need urban and rural school districts. The Increased Student Achievement through Increased Student Support Act focuses on supporting the social, emotional, behavioral and mental health needs of students as a means of improving classroom achievement by increasing the number of school support professionals available to students.

Key provisions of the bill:

  • Create a federal grant program to increase the number of school social workers, school counselors, and school psychologists serving low-income local educational agencies (LEAs) by creating a pipeline between institutions of higher education and low-income school districts.
  • Allow institutions of higher education with graduate training programs in school social work, school counseling, and school psychology that develop collaborative training and placement partnerships with LEAs to apply for federal grant funds to hire and pay participating graduates to work in those schools.
  • Make program participants who remain employed in a low-income school setting for a minimum of five years eligible for loan forgiveness.

NASW is working with Rep. Towns to help secure additional cosponsors for the bill.

Congressional Social Work Caucus

The Congressional Social Work Caucus (CSWC) already has 60 bipartisan members in the House of Representatives and Senators Barbara Mikulski and Debbie Stabenow are the first Senate members. Are your Representative and Senators a member of this important caucus that creates a platform on Capitol Hill to represent the interests of social workers throughout the United States? The CSWC consists of social worker Members of Congress and those who support the social work profession and society’s social safety net.

Don’t forget to contact your Representative and Senators and ask them to support the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act (H.R. 1106/S. 584).


Advocacy Blog Roundup

Women and the Unemployment Crisis

Invitation to a Conference Call Tour for Faith & Community Leaders

Advocacy Listserv Activity

In November, 211 activists sent 634 advocacy messages to Congress through Capwiz. The most active alert was about repealing the sustainable growth rate. Thanks to all of you who took the time to take action.  To see all alerts, go 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...