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    Americans are Voting Early and Making Plans to Ensure Their Vote Counts

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    The first of three presidential debates touched on many hot topics, with President Donald Trump and presidential candidate Joe Biden having an impassioned debate over the integrity of the 2020 election. While President Trump has been very vocal in the past about voter fraud, he claimed that mail-in voting fraud is a particular concern this year. In addition to voter fraud, Trump also claimed that mail-in ballots are being thrown out and that the number of mail-in ballots will overload the systems currently in place for receiving and counting votes.

    With the current COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 75% of voters have the ability to vote by mail for the upcoming general election. During the debate, as well as on twitter, Trump said that there are 80 million mail-in ballots being sent to people who did not request them and declared it “unfair” and “total fraud.” While a few states do automatically send out mail-in ballots to voters, there is no way that this would add up to the proclaimed 80 million ballots. The accusation of fraud by mail-in has been shown to be unfounded, and The Brennan Center for Justice has put together a compilation of independent and government research that shows that voter fraud is rare. How rare? Between 0.0003% and 0.0025% of votes in various past elections. In fact, from 2000 to 2012, there were only 2,068 cases of voter fraud, with only 24% of those being related to mail-in ballots. Despite his concerns, Trump has cast his vote by mail-in ballot in the past.

    During the debate over the integrity of this year’s election, presidential candidate Joe Biden cited the FBI, whose director has said that there has been no evidence of any type of coordinated voter fraud. Biden said that mail-in ballots are necessary this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and reaffirmed the idea that they are safe and secure. Biden noted that people can still vote in person, and urged the people watching to make sure they do vote this year. He also brought up the fact that the military has been using mail-in ballots since the Civil War.

    While mail-in voting has had a strong and lengthy history in the U.S. for military members, the process works a bit differently for the general population. All states routinely offer absentee ballots, often used by college students, military members, and others who are not able to visit their polling location on election day. Due to COVID-19, more than 30 states have allowed residents to request absentee mail-in ballots without a specific reason. There are also five states (Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Utah, and Hawaii) that have been regularly using all mail-in voting without issue.

    This year, many people are not comfortable voting in person, with some studies showing that almost 50% of people are uncomfortable with the idea. This is to be expected due to the ongoing fluctuation of COVID-19 cases throughout the country. Another unique challenge that is impacting the voters of the US this year is the ongoing conflict between Trump and the USPS. Trump has admitted to blocking funding that the USPS needs to maintain its operations, and has mentioned “fraudulent” mail-in voting as part of his reasoning. People residing in states that are allowing absentee ballots due to COVID-19 are encouraged to request and return their mail-in ballots as early as they can.

    On top of the barriers caused by Trump’s interference, many states have strict voter ID laws, registration rules, and few physical polling locations. Voter ID laws negatively impact already marginalized groups of people, including people of color, low-income individuals, and young people. Without an ID, you cannot vote, but many people do not have the time, resources, or funds to acquire a state-issued ID. In recent years, various southern states have closed a combined total of over 1,200 polling locations, further adding to the barriers citizens face when trying to cast their votes. The closed polling locations have predominantly impacted people of color and people living in low-income communities, which have seen the most polling location closures.

    Mail-in voting can be beneficial for those who have seen their previous polling locations close, as well as people who may experience challenges voting in person. Although polling places are supposed to follow the guidelines set forth in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), approximately 60% of polling places were inaccessible for people with various disabilities in past elections. People living with certain disabilities are also at higher risk for serious complications if they contract COVID-19. For these reasons, mail-in voting is an important tool that Americans living with disabilities need access to this year.

    Mail-in ballots have been a part of voting in the U.S. since the 1800s, and they will continue to be an integral part of the election system for the foreseeable future. With more states moving towards all-mail voting systems, the evidence is clear – mail-in voting is safe and it works. Remember, over 30 states have allowed their residents to request absentee ballots without a reason, making it easier than ever to vote in the 2020 presidential election. You can visit vote.gov and select your state to find out how to register to vote and check your voter status.

    Make sure you check out your state’s specific voting page for accurate information on voting by mail, as it varies from state to state. If you live in a state that is not allowing you to vote by mail in this election, this website can tell you if your state requires your employer to give you time off to go vote in person. To make sure you have all the resources to vote, Michelle Obama, Tom Hanks, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Janelle Monae, Chris Paul, Faith Hill, and Tim McGraw created When We All Vote, which offers a Voter Resources Hub full of information specific to where you live. Knowledge is power, and this year, more than ever, it is important to know your voting rights and make sure your voice is heard in the 2020 election.

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    Alyssa (she/her/hers) is a staff writer for SWHELPER. She is a Master of Social Work student at Boston University with a clinical focus on mental health, public policy, and social justice. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with friends and finding new gluten-free spots around the city.

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    The Need for Improvement in Substance Abuse Treatments

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    For decades now, America has been in the midst of a substance abuse epidemic. In fact, recent Pew research indicates nearly half of U.S. adults have a close friend or family member who has been addicted to drugs at one point in their life. The experience is so universal the dataset cuts across sex, race, age, education level, and even partisan lines. In short, it’s safe to assume addiction is as American as apple pie.

    Every day, more than 115 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids. Alcohol abuse has increased by 50% since the start of the century to the point where today, one in eight Americans abuses alcohol. According to a 2017 survey, methamphetamine has become the world’s most dangerous drug, as 4.8% of users required hospitalization in order to avoid overdose.

    Though substance abuse has become a worldwide phenomenon, affecting millions of people, treatment for addiction is not nearly as universal. Public health officials have drawn attention to the problem in more recent years, yet only 10.9% of individuals who needed treatment in a specialized facility for a substance use or a dependency concern received it in the year 2013.

    It’s an epidemic policymaker’s, mental health experts, law enforcement, and others are acutely aware of. But solving the problem on a wide scale has so far proven to be fruitless. Individual states have taken specific measures, like opening up safe injection sites, which allow those who struggle with addiction to use in a safe space around medical experts. It’s a solution which definitely won’t solve the addiction crisis, but it does work as a harm-prevention space. Other states have taken to suing the pharmaceutical companies themselves, using similar tactics which were used against Big Tobacco nearly 20 years ago.

    While these are no doubt necessary and useful tactics which will help presently and in the future (if successful), there are other avenues that largely have yet to be explored. Perhaps the most simple form of aid is given through the Primary Care Provider (PCP).

    While all doctors and patients are supposed to share a therapeutic alliance, based on mutual trust and respect, PCPs are in a unique position in the healthcare field. Often, these doctors have known their patients for a number of years, have a big picture view of their overall health over a period of several years, and are able to check in on a patient’s progress with every visit.  

    Evidence compiled by a University of Michigan medical team suggests primary care physicians and their teams of nurses, medical assistants, social workers, and pharmacists can — beyond providing basic services every patient needs — also provide effective care for addiction. Including each of these moving parts not only ensures the patient is receiving quality care but also helps to ensure the patient does not fall through the cracks at any point during their recovery.

    They achieve this primarily through the anti-opioid medication buprenorphine and counseling — a combination known as medication-assisted treatment (MAT). The researchers have recently published a peer-reviewed paper on the subject, where they pose this is an effective method of treatment. They do not argue, however, that it is an easy process.

    “There is a major need to do this,” says Pooja Lagisetty, M.D., M.Sc., the study’s lead author and a University of Michigan primary care doctor who provides MAT to her own patients at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System. “It’s hard to convince primary care physicians to do this work when they’re already busy and they don’t have additional addiction-related training or experience. But if we can learn from others and find a way to offer physicians logistical support, then maybe it’s possible.”

    This support must come from other parts of the medical team. As the patient goes through the process, non-physician team members aid with dosing, monitoring the patient, and check-ins by phone and in person. If done successfully, Lagisetty argues this method can achieve similar results to specialized treatment facilities, and it might reach more people.

    “Patients might be more willing to seek help in a primary care setting because of the lack of stigma and the ability to address their other health concerns,” she said. It’s also likely to be less devastating to patients financially. All in all, this kind of treatment in Primary Care facilities makes sense.

    While it’s unlikely primary care physicians pursued medicine with a desire to focus on addiction treatment, it’s a reality many are going to have to embrace and develop a protocol for as the problem persists or worsens.

    There are, of course, a number of other solutions which ought to be tested as America’s substance abuse problems continue to grow. Addressing the issue at its core will require effort from governing bodies, lawmakers, public health experts, mental health experts, and of course, the healthcare system. Until this happens, a collaboration between healthcare providers might be our best bet.

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    Social Work and Helping Professions Must Take Action to End Child Separations at Border

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    Today, House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) led more than 190 House Democrats in introducing the Keep Families Together Act, H.R. 6135, legislation to end family separation at the U.S. border.

    On June 8th, 2018, Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01), Congresswoman and Chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus Barbara Lee (CA-13), Congresswoman Susan Davis (CA-53), Congressman Luis V. Gutiérrez (IL-04), and Congresswoman Karen Bass (CA-37) released a joint statement on the Trump Administrations zero tolerance policy which is separating children from their parents as an immigration deterrent strategy.

    “The Trump Administration’s policy of separating children from their parents is terrifying and frankly, abhorrent. Reports indicate that very young children– who are already fleeing dangerous conditions at home including domestic violence – are being taken from their parents. Families are often separated by hundreds of miles, and children are being housed in inadequate facilities. As social workers, we understand the profound impact that family separation has on a child’s developmental growth and on our society. These heartless policies instill a sense of helplessness and despair in children and could result in long-term trauma and health repercussions.

    The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that the separation of children from parents, and detention in DHS facilities that do not meet the basic standard of care for children, pose a significant threat to their long-term health and well-being. Their findings have led them to recommend that children in the custody of their parents should never be detained or separated from a parent unless a competent family court makes that determination.

    Every passing day of separation has grave consequences for these children’s well-being. These are innocent children who have done nothing wrong. Forcing them to suffer at the hands of the US government is inhumane and un-American. We are taking all actions possible to end this brutal policy and reunite children with their families”, says social work members of Congress.

    A release issued by the National Association of Social Workers also stated the “zero tolerance immigration policy that would prosecute families who attempt to cross the border and forcibly separate children from parents is malicious and unconscionable”.

    In an effort to end child separations at the border, the Keep Families Together Act was developed in consultation with child welfare experts to ensure the federal government is acting in the best interest of children. The bill is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, Kids In Need of Defense (KIND), Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), Children’s Law Center, Young Center for Immigrant Rights and the Women’s Refugee Commission.

    Key Elements of the Bill

    • Keep Families Together:  The bill promotes family unity by prohibiting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials from separating children from their parents, except in extraordinary circumstances.  In these limited circumstances, separation could not occur unless parental rights have been terminated, a child welfare agency has issued a best interest determination, or the Port Director or the Chief Border Patrol agent of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have approved separation due to trafficking indicators or other concerns of risk to the child.  It requires an independent child welfare official to review any such separation and return the child if no harm to the child is present. It imposes financial penalties on officials who violate the prohibition on family separation.
    • Limit Criminal Prosecutions for Asylum Seekers: The majority of the parents separated at the border are being criminally prosecuted for illegal entry or re-entry.  This bill restricts the prosecution of parents who are asylum seekers by adopting the recommendation of the DHS Office of Inspector General.  The bill delays prosecutions for asylum seekers and creates an affirmative defense for asylum seekers.  It also codifies our commitment to the Refugee protocol prohibiting the criminal punishment of those seeking protection from persecution.
    • Increase Child Welfare Training: The bill requires all CBP officers and agents to complete child welfare training on an annual basis. Port Directors and Chief Border Agents, those who are authorized to make decisions on family separations, must complete an additional 90 minutes of annual child-welfare training.
    • Establish Public Policy Preference for Family Reunification: The bill establishes a preference for family unity, discourages the separation of siblings, and creates a presumption that detention is not in the best interests of families and children.
    • Add Procedures for Separated Families: The bill requires DHS to develop policies and procedures allowing parents and children to locate each other and reunite if they have been separated.   Such procedures must be public and made available in a language that parents can understand.  In cases of separation, it requires DHS to provide parents with a weekly report containing information about a child, and weekly phone communication.
    • Establish Other Required Measures:  In order to inform Congressional oversight and promote public understanding of the use of family separation, the bill requires a report on the separation of families every six months.

    In addition to Senator Feinstein, the bill is also cosponsored by 31 senators, including Senators Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Angus King (I-Maine), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-Nev.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).

    We must urge Congress to allow a vote on this important piece of legislation to help minimize trauma being inflicted on children and families. Sign the petition to support the Keep Families Together Act here.

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