What Michael Flynn’s Resignation Says About the Trump Administration

U.S. national security adviser Michael Flynn resigned this week amid growing concerns over the ties between the Trump administration and Russian officials.

In a statement released today, Congresswoman Barbara Lee said, “Michael Flynn’s resignation is a long overdue acknowledgment of threats posed to our national security by this Administration’s connections to Russia. This is just the tip of the iceberg. The American people deserve to know the extent to which the Russians meddled in our election, as well as any evidence of coordination between President Trump, his campaign or Administration, and the Kremlin.

“I am deeply concerned about these revelations and I call on the White House to immediately release the transcripts of General Flynn’s call with the Russian ambassador. Furthermore, my Republican colleagues in Congress should support the call for a bipartisan and independent commission to fully investigate Russia’s influence on this Administration and the election”, said Lee.

Melvyn Levitsky, professor of international policy and practice at the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy, also discussed the resignation and its implications for the current administration. He spent 35 years as a U.S. diplomat under eight different presidential administrations and served as officer-in-charge of U.S.-Soviet bilateral relations and as a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. For those who are unclear what this resignation may mean, Levitsky provides further explanation.

Q: What do we know so far about the resignation?

Levitsky: Although we do not have all the facts, it seems clear that General Flynn discussed sanctions and quite likely indicated to the Russian ambassador that sanctions would be lifted at some point. The Russians—and the Soviets before them—always have reciprocated U.S. expulsions of their embassy and UN mission personnel. It is unlikely that they would have made the decision not to reciprocate unless they were given a strong commitment that response would make it more difficult to have sanctions lifted.

Q: Do we know what the president and vice president knew about these conversations?

Levitsky: The fact that the president knew at least generally about Flynn’s conversations and that the vice president was not informed is further indication of a disorganized and perhaps divided White House pulled in different ways by the president’s various advisers.

It is more than strange that Flynn, who had headed the Defense Intelligence Agency, would be unaware—or perhaps naive—of the fact that the FBI would monitor the Russian ambassador’s telephone conversations, email and text exchanges.

Q: Will Flynn’s resignation put an end to the criticism that the White House is too close to Russia or will it give opponents more ammunition?

Levitsky: Bottom line: This is a real mess with a future flow of investigations, congressional hearings, further leaks from disgruntled staff and with diversion from any effort to implement President Trump’s commitments on the policy front.

No Hungry Kids: Congresswoman Lee & 110 Members Call on Congress to Have a Conscience

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Earlier this week, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, along with Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Congressman Tony Cárdenas (D-CA)  led a letter, signed by 111 Members of Congress, raising serious concerns about the Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill. The letter also urges House leaders to protect critical food assistance programs.

“Once again, Congressional Republicans are balancing the budget on the backs of poor children, to the detriment of their health and well-being,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee. “Ensuring children have access to healthy and filling meals should be a top priority for every Member of Congress. With more than one in five American children living in poverty, we should be expanding opportunity to poor kids – not taking it away. I hope House Republicans will remember the struggling families in their districts and help us strengthen vital child nutrition programs.”

The letter identified many concerns that House Democrats have with the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act, including the draconian cuts to the Community Eligibility Provision and the Summer EBT Program. Under the proposed legislation, many low-income students would no longer receive free school meals. In fact, 19 of 23 schools in California’s 13th district that participate in the Community Eligibility Provision would lose federal resources.

Additionally, the letter detailed concerns about the updated nutrition standards, which would erode recent successes in expanding access to healthy meals for low-income students.

“There are more than 46 million Americans living in poverty right now,” added Congresswoman Barbara Lee. “We owe struggling families a real plan to end the cycle of poverty in America. Instead of actively working to undermine child nutrition and safety net programs, I hope my Republican colleagues will join us in empowering families and children living on the edge.”

Congresswoman Lee & Senator Stabenow Celebrate World Social Work Day

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Washington DC – Today, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) introduced a bicameral congressional resolution marking March 15th as World Social Work Day and celebrating March as Social Work Month.

“As a psychiatric social worker, I know firsthand the critical contributions that social workers make to our communities,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee. “Social workers are tireless advocates for the vulnerable and voiceless.

Through their work, they promote empathy and compassion across our country while helping families overcome economic, social and structural barriers to success. My resolution celebrates this important profession that strengthens families and supports those who are struggling.”

“Social workers play critical roles in our communities,” said Senator Stabenow. “Whether in schools, hospitals, mental health agencies, or community service organizations, these trained professionals provide critical support to families and improve the quality of life for all of us.”

The theme for this year’s World Social Work Day is “Promoting the Dignity and Worth of Peoples.” This theme celebrates the persistent work of social workers helping individuals, communities and the larger society tackle and solve issues that confront our most vulnerable.

Congresswoman Lee authored H.R. 1378, the Social Work Reinvestment Act, which establishes a commission to study the social work profession and promote recruitment, retention and reinvestment in social workers. She has also introduced H.R. 2375, the Student Support Act, which provides school funding for hiring school-based mental health counselors, social workers,  and student support counselors.

Lastly, Congresswoman Lee is the sponsor of H.R. 3712, Improving Access to Mental Health Act, which updates reimbursements for clinical social workers to help seniors who are enrolled in Medicare access comprehensive behavioral health services.

Congresswoman Lee is a member of the Appropriations and Budget Committees, the Steering and Policy Committee, is a Senior Democratic Whip, former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and co-chair of the Progressive Caucus. She serves as chair of the Democrat Whip Task Force on Poverty, Income Inequality and Opportunity as well as the Chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus.

Harnessing Our Own Power in Action, Not Just in Theory

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These United States are changing, and there is a desperate need for services that include and treat diverse groups of people from all walks of life. Since last year, I have realized the power and extreme altruism of professional social workers as our society’s safety net. Many perform services that help people face significant life challenges, while others give voice to the growing constituency of individuals who are abused, dispossessed or idle despite meager wages.

We as social workers are needed on the front line of defense against political uncertainty, historic economic downturns and violence erupting in families, in schools, neighborhoods, or even between police and citizens. Our nation’s safety net is buckling, and as a profession, we need a strong political force to continue to catch those who has fallen between the cracks, is currently falling, or could be heading that way, with no possible way of survival.

We as young adults have not all fallen victim to the despair that keeps us voiceless in the political sphere. Since 2013, through the use of hashtags on social media, several movements such as #BlackLivesMatter and #StudentBlackOut were birthed to nationally recognize allegations of racism, racial insensitivity and inequality, police brutality; the denial of federal workforce or health care benefits to graduate students; or the lack of inclusion or diversity in higher education.

In 2015 alone, a series of protests led by students at the University of Missouri inspired other protests or indications of solidarity at Yale University, Ithaca College, Amherst College, University of Kansas and numerous other US campuses. We as a generation have power, but we as budding social work leaders have not even begun to exercise our strength.

For those tired of inequalities in the world today, for those terrified by the currently political climate in our local, state, and federal government, and for those serious about young social workers in elected office to ensure the safe passage of policies that matter, harnessing our own power in action, not just in theory, is critical to the growth of this country.

12715938_249739668691602_4008388706752908654_o (1)Through #YSocialWork, originated by myself in media partnership with Social Work Helper in 2015an online movement was created so that the profession could benefit from young, innovative problem-solvers, regardless of field experience, who can introduce practical approaches to advocacy and policy reform.

We as young adults can modernize the social work profession through technology, innovation, and through our inherent sense of bravery we are known for as a generation, but are often too late or pushed aside when we are no longer of use. Now is your time again to exercise your voice and speak up about issues affecting the social work profession and the clients we serve.

March 1st will kick off the second annual Social Work Student Advocacy Day on the Hill, under the banner of “Social Work Day on the Hill festivities. Students and early career professionals are invited to discuss how policy is shaped and learn more about the critical issues that affect the social work profession and our clients.

This momentous event will be held from 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM in the Congressional Auditorium in the Capitol Visitor Center. The full-day conference is being organized by social work students and sponsored by the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy (CRISP) and the Greater Washington Society for Clinical Social Work (GWSCSW).

This year’s event will focus on the Improving Access to Mental Health Act of 2015 (H.R. 3712). Hands-on training will provide unique opportunities for participants to learn first-hand how advocates can promote professional growth and inclusion. By listening to speakers and engaging with leaders in the social work profession, you will learn to voice your ideas and promote professional concerns to legislators and congressional staff. Experience the power of social work through collective engagement and advocacy.

The annual Social Work Student Advocacy Day Forum enhances advocacy skills and builds a community of social work students and early career professionals through the following activities:

Overview of H.R. 3712 by the Congressional Social Work Caucus– We have invited U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-13), Chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus, to serve as this year’s dynamic keynote speaker. Congresswoman Barbara Lee and U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) introduced H.R. 3712 to help seniors who are struggling with mental illness.

According to Congresswoman Barbara Lee, a former psychiatric social worker, this bill proposes a new payment structure that will align Medicare payments for clinical workers with that of other non-physician health care providers like nurse practitioners and physician assistants. The legislation will also ensure access to the full range of behavioral assessments and intervention services provided by clinical social workers.

Morning Panel Discussion – Focused on H.R. 3712, the morning discussion is divided into four key topic areas — Advocacy, Research, Education and Community, to:

Implement strategies for students to create a voice of action and advocacy through facilitated training exercises, workshops; and congressional office visits;

Enhance social work research for students to inform social work practice; and policy and legislative deliberations on the Hill;

Empower the next generation of students by way of direct lobbying training undertaken in partnership with the Clinical Social Work Association (CSWA) and the National Association of Social Work (NASW);

Establish a community of students regardless of field practice via networking opportunities and ongoing social media contact with speakers, student ambassadors, early career professionals, and one another.

This year’s panelists will include: Margot Aronson, LICSW, Deputy Director of Legislative and Policy Practice, Clinical Social Work Association (CSWA); Darla Coffey, PhD, President of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE); Dina Kastner, MSS, MLSP, Senior Field Organizer, NASW; Tanya Rhodes-Smith, Executive Director, Nancy A. Humphrey Institute for Policy Social Work (NAHIPSW); Jacqulyn Washington, BSW Student, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Social Work; Student Ambassador, YSocialWork. Dr. Janice Berry Edwards, Associate Professor at Howard University School of Social Work, will serve as the panel moderator.

Congressional Visits – Following the panel, groups of students will visit the congressional offices of members of the Congressional Social Work Caucus who have not co-sponsored the Improving Access to Mental Health Act of 2015 to urge them to consider signing on to the bill in the 114th Congress. They will also visit the offices of Members of the House who co-sponsored this bill but were not members of the Social Work Caucus to urge them to consider joining the Caucus.

Social workers play a unique role in our society, bridging the gap between the most vulnerable and the power-at-be. We as young social workers need to be visible change agents and committed to social justice ensuring all people are recognized for their inherent humanity, but we still have a lot to do in establishing ourselves as a political force, not just in theory.

Join us on March 1st, so we can harness our own power and learn to use it effectively. The challenges we and our clients face are political in nature, making social work an inherently political profession. Together, we will walk the halls of power and give voice to the voiceless.

To register to attend this year’s event click here and register. The above seen t-shirt is free for the first 200 registrants.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee Wins Prestigious Trumpet Award

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Congresswoman Barbara Lee- NOH8 Campaign Photographer: Adam Bouska

On Saturday, January 23rd, Congresswoman Lee will receive a 2016 Trumpet Award during ceremonies at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center.  Congresswoman Lee will share the honors with fellow social workers Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA-37) and Alexis M. Herman, Secretary of Labor during the Carter Administration who began her professional career with Catholic Charities.

My summer reading included Renegade for Peace and Justice, the autobiography of California Congresswoman Barbara Lee who represents the 13th Congressional District that includes Berkeley, Oakland and Alameda County.  Hers is a remarkable story.  She had to overcome enormous challenges—difficulties that would have broken the spirit of most people. She prevailed because of her faith in God and her unwavering belief in her ability to conquer every obstacle in her path, even the few that were of her own making.  She seized and made the most of her opportunities.

She caught the attention of the late great Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm as a volunteer during her presidential campaign. She lifted herself from welfare to creating a business that allowed her to hire hundreds of workers. Her unique ability to get things done made her an invaluable aide to former Congressman and Oakland mayor Ronald Dellums who became her mentor.

220px-Barbaralee_newheadshot_1200Since being elected to Congress in 1998, Congresswoman Lee has been a leader in the national and global fight against HIV/AIDS, authoring or co-authoring every major piece of legislation dealing with global HIV/AIDS issues.  She took much heat for her lone courageous vote in the House of Representatives against authorization for going to war following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Lee has made poverty one of her signature issues as co-founder and now co-Chair of the Out-of-Poverty Caucus and chairs the Democratic Whip Task Force on Poverty, Income Inequality, and Opportunity.  In September of 2013, President Barack Obama nominated her to be a U.S. Representative to the 68th Session of the United Nation’s General Assembly.  The President nominated her again in September, 2015 to represent the United States during the UN’s 70th Session.

The Trumpet Awards is the brainchild of civil rights icon Xernona Clayton, a pioneering television executive with the Turner Broadcasting System.  The award was created to honor African American achievers and others who have made significant contributions to the African American experience.  Congresswoman Lee has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors. This year she was named one of 25 Most Influential Women in Congress by CQ Roll Call, received the National Urban League’s Congressional Leadership Award, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Progressive Congress among others.  CRISP presented her with our 2014 Social Justice Champion Award.

Trumpet Awards are also being awarded to all of the women in the Congressional Black Caucus: Reps. Alma Adams (D-NC-12), Joyce Beatty (D-OH-3), Corrine Brown (D-FL-5), Yvette Clarke (D-NY-9), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ-12), Donna Edwards (D-MD-4), Marcia Fudge (D-OH-11), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX-30), Robin Kelly (D-IL-2), Brenda Lawrence (D-MI-14), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX-18), Mia Love (R-UT-4), Gwen Moore (D-WI-4), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Stacey Plaskett (D-VI), Terri Sewell (D-AL-7), Maxine Waters (D-CA-43), and Frederica Wilson (D-FL-24). The ceremonies will be hosted by Hollywood celebrities Nia Long and Mike Epps.

Congresswoman Lee has been a champion for social work on the Hill, and Lee succeeded former Congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns as Chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus which he founded in 2010. She has worked with social work organizations to create opportunities for numerous congressional briefings on topics ranging from children’s mental health, to poverty and child neglect and, most recently, a briefing on poverty, trauma and the juvenile justice system.

She has provided resources for hundreds of social work students to visit Congress and learn more about federal legislative processes.  Recently, she introduced H.R. 3712—Improving Access to Mental Health Act, a bill that would add clinical social workers to qualified service providers for Medicare recipients in skilled nursing facilities and would increase the Medicare reimbursement rate for clinical social workers from its current rate of 75 percent to 85 percent.

Congresswoman’s Lee leadership has had an impact globally, particularly in the Caribbean, Haiti and Cuba, work that predates her time in Congress.  She was a member of the delegation with Secretary of State John Kerry that traveled to Cuba last year to reopen the U.S. embassy and has visited the country more than 20 times.  Although her presence in Congress is very important to social workers, she would make an outstanding ambassador to Cuba, a country that can benefit from a strong social work leader.

Barbara Lee’s Bill Expands the Role of Social Workers in Medicare

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Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA-13), chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus, introduced a bill last week addressing several critical issues confronting clinical social workers providing mental health services to Medicare recipients. The Improve Medicare Beneficiaries’ Access to Mental Health Services Act of 2015, if it becomes law, would add clinical social workers to qualified service providers for Medicare recipients in skilled nursing facilities. It would increase the Medicare reimbursement rate for clinical social workers from its current rate of 75 percent to 85 percent. And, it would also allow clinical social workers to be reimbursed for Health and Behavior Assessment and Intervention (HBAI) services that may not be directly related to mental health treatment. Senator Debbie Stabenow, one of two social workers serving in the Senate, introduced a companion bill.

The National Association for Social Workers (NASW) has been working to remove these regulatory barriers that have limited Medicare recipients’ access to quality services provided by clinical social workers—the nation’s largest group of mental health service providers. There are about a quarter million licensed clinical social workers in the United States. Rep. Lee’s bill addresses the three areas of concern by amending language in Title 18 of the Social Security Act. According to NASW, in order to be certified as a Medicare provider, a social worker must have a Master in Social Work (MSW) degree or doctorate from an accredited school of social work and two years or 3,000 hours of supervised post-graduate clinical experience. She or he must have a clinical license or certification from the state of practice, must obtain a National Provider Identifier Number, and have malpractice insurance.

The Clinical Social Work Association (CSWA) points out that participation in Medicare can be confusing for clinical social workers. Once CSWs sign up as Medicare providers they must accept all referrals unless they “opt out” which would allow them to privately contract with Medicare beneficiaries. According to the CSWA, the “opt out” period is generally for two years. There are a number of reasons CSWs may decide to “opt out” of being a Medicare Provider. One reason is the Medicare reimbursement rate for CSWs is just 75 percent that of psychiatrists and psychologists. Increasing the rate to 85 percent, increases the likelihood more clinical social workers will participate in Medicare.

Currently clinical social workers are reimbursed through Medicaid Part B and cannot be reimbursed for services provided to beneficiaries in skilled nursing facilities (SNF) under Medicaid Part A. This limits Medicare beneficiaries’ access to mental health services provided by clinical social workers including services that could be interrupted if the beneficiary is transferred to a SNF while receiving treatment from a clinical social worker. The bill would amend language in Title 18 of the Social Security Act to include clinical social workers among providers of services in skilled nursing homes.

The bill would also fix another problem. While the Social Security Act provides reimbursement for the diagnosis and treatment of mental health problems, it does not specify reimbursement for behavioral health services covered by the Health and Behavior Assessment and Intervention(HBAI) codes such as emotional and social problems that may occur due to medical conditions such as diagnoses of cancer or Alzheimer’s disease. Currently payments to CSWs are left to the discretion of each local Medicare Administrative Contractor. Rep. Lee’s bill would include HBAI code services in those that can be provided by clinical social workers.

As the nation’s population ages, it is critical that licensed clinical social workers participate as Medicare providers and have the widest possible latitude to provide billable services. For more information regarding the Improve Medicare Beneficiaries’ Access to Mental Health Services Act of 2015 and issues related to clinical social workers and Medicare, contact Dina Kastner at NASW (dkastner@naswdc.org).

Social Workers to Launch Voter Empowerment Campaign

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There are a growing number of social workers who believe our profession can play a significant role in restoring confidence in our nation’s political processes by encouraging more people to register and vote. In the August 2015 Gallup Poll, 72 percent of Americans say they are dissatisfied with the direction of the country. They want change. Many lower and middle-income families have been feeling squeezed for years. So how does change occur?

Dēmos policy analyst Sean McElwee says more in the low- and middle-income class need to vote. In his report, Why Voting Matters, McElwee documents how lower-income voters’ failure to vote has resulted in policies that favor the well-to-do. He reported 26 million eligible voters of color and 47 million eligible voters earning less than $50,000 annually did not vote in 2012. In 2014, the numbers were 44 million and 66 million respectively.

Many social workers are realizing the critical need for more of us to be involved in political processes. Nancy A. Humphreys, past president of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and former dean of the University of Connecticut School of Social Work, has been preaching this message for decades. The Nancy A. Humphreys Institute for Political Social Work (NAHIPSW) at the University of Connecticut’s School of Social Work will be celebrating its 20th anniversary next month and still going strong under the leadership of new director Tanya Rhodes Smith.

Although Dr. Humphreys retired recently, she has not abandoned her efforts to educate and organize social workers, social work students and faculty around the need to be more politically active. Her message is taking root and signs of increased activity are sprouting around the nation.

CRISP is joining forces with Influencing Social Policy’s outgoing chair, Kathy Byers, to launch a social work-led voter empowerment project designed to mobilize social workers to register, educate, and get voters to the polls so their voices will be included in deciding the direction of the country.

This nonpartisan campaign seeks to provide social workers with evidence-based information and tools necessary to effectively identify and engage nonvoters. Drawing on proven resources from successful voter registration and education projects such as the League of Women’s Voters, Emily’s List, Nonprofit Vote and Rock The Vote, this social work voter empowerment campaign will create and disseminate materials and toolkits designed specifically for social workers.

In addition, CRISP will soon formally announce the formation of a Student Advisory Council (SAC) that will focus on engaging millennial social workers in BSW, MSW, and PhD programs as well as recent graduates. CRISPSAC will focus on social entrepreneurship and using technology to advocate and influence policy. Led by Shauntia White, a second-year student at the School of Social Services at the National Catholic University of America, CRISPSAC, under the banner #YSocialWork, is recruiting representatives from schools across the country to be ambassadors and spread the message at their schools.

CRISPSAC communications coordinator Justin Vest, a recent grad from the University of Alabama School of Social Work, is spearheading an awareness campaign on Tuesday that will include a Twitter chat using the hashtags #CelebrateNVRD and #SWVote.

Tuesday is National Voter Registration Day, a day to remind Americans to take advantage of our precious right to vote—a right that has never been fully accessible to all citizens of the United States. Women fought for decades to win the right to vote in 1919. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 struck down many of the barriers that denied African Americans access to the polls. The National Voters Registration Act of 1993 sought to ease access to voting.

Yet, less than 50 years after the VRA of 1965, key provisions of the legislation were eviscerated by the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder. Roadblocks such as unduly restrictive voter identification requirements, polling places with inadequate resources to meet demand, and laws that create barriers to student participation all work to limit participation in our democratic process.

More alarming are the vast numbers of Americans who choose not to exercise their right to vote. According to the U.S. Census, only 92.1 million (41.9%) of 220 million voting-age Americans voted in the 2014 elections, meaning 127 million people did not vote. Nearly 78 million voting age Americans were not registered. Voter participation rates are significantly higher in presidential elections—almost 62 percent of eligible voters went to the polls in 2012.

A defining event in the profession’s expanding political focus was the founding of the Congressional Social Work Caucus (CSWC) by former Congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns. It created a platform on the Hill for social workers and encouraged us to be more fully engaged with the federal government.

Now under the leadership of Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13), the CSWC continues to work in conjunction with social work schools and organizations. Plans are underway for a second Social Work Day on the Hill in March 2016. Empowering American voters is a critical function for which social workers are trained and equipped to be game changers.

Congresswoman Lee Leads Effort Urging President Obama to Ban the Box

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Washington, D.C.- More than 70 Members of the U.S. House of Representatives, led by Congresswoman Barbara Lee, sent a letter to President Obama to adopt a federal fair chance hiring policy. This effort was co-led by Congressman Conyers, Congressman Scott, Congressman Davis, and Congresswoman Jackson Lee.

The federal government should not be in the business of erecting barriers between those who have made a mistake and are looking a job, said Congresswoman Lee. By enacting these basic fair chance hiring reforms, the federal government will continue to lead as a model employer while working to end the cycle of mass incarceration, unemployment and recidivism.

The effort was supported by various groups including Policy Link, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), National Employment Law Project (NELP), PICO Networks LIVE FREE Campaign, and All Of Us Or None, a national organizing initiative founded by formerly-incarcerated individuals to fight against discrimination and for the human rights of prisoners.

It’s rewarding to witness the work started in our backyard reach national levels, and continue to dismantle the barriers facing formerly incarcerated communities, said co-founding member, Dorsey Nunn, of All Of Us Or None. This effort could not have come at a better time to reflect that all Black Lives Matter, including the lives of people with arrest and conviction histories.

The letter calls on President Obama to take executive action requiring that federal contractors and agencies refrain from inquiring about an applicants criminal record in the initial stage of hiring. Employers would be able to inquire about convictions and conduct background checks before making an employment decision.

The letter reads: We urge you to build on your administration’s commitment to adopting fair change hiring reforms by committing the federal government to do its part to eliminate unnecessary barriers to employment for people with criminal records.

Specifically, the letter notes that seventeen states, the District of Columbia and more than 100 cities and counties have already adopted fair chance hiring reforms.  In six states, the policy also expands to the private sector. Several private sector firms have also independently adopted fair chance hiring policies including: Walmart, Koch Industries, Home Depot, Bed Bath & Beyond and Target.

There are more than 70 million Americans with criminal records and communities of color are disproportionately affected. One in three African-American men will be arrested during their lifetime.

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Banning the box in federal hiring would help those who are fighting for a fair opportunity to show their qualifications for employment.  This is the right thing to do for individuals seeking to provide for themselves and their families, and it is the smart thing to do for our national economy which sorely needs the talents and contributions of all of our citizens, said Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (MI-13), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee.

The EEOC has ruled that discrimination based on prior convictions without an individualized assessment of the relevance to job performance constitutes illegal employment discrimination, said Rep. Scott (VA-03), Ranking Member of the Committee on Education and the Workforce. The Fair Chance practices, also known as ban the box, are consistent with that EEOC guidance.  Studies have consistently shown  that properly tailoring employment restrictions will help to increase public safety, reduce recidivism, and save money.

The cruel, relentless logic of mass incarceration has now become apparent to all.  One in four Americans has a conviction history which often excludes them from the workforce and from housing creating new layers of crisis for our communities, said Congressman Danny Davis (IL-07). Ban the box is a critical step for formerly incarcerated individuals to a dignified, productive civilian life and helping families and communities become self-sustaining once again.

Almost one in three adults in the United States has a criminal record that will show up on a routine criminal background check. This creates a serious barrier to employment for millions of workers, especially in communities of color hardest hit by decades of over-criminalization, said Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18).

Nationwide, 100 cities and counties have adopted what is widely known as ban the box so that employers consider a job candidates qualifications first, without the stigma of a criminal record. These initiatives provide applicants a fair chance by removing the conviction history question on the job application and delaying the background check inquiry until later in the hiring. Fair chance policies benefit everyone because they are good for families and the local community.

The letter can be found here.

President Obama, A Social Worker Is Your Ideal Poverty Czar

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Last week, President Barack Obama once again did the unusual by participating in a panel discussion as part of Georgetown University’s Catholic-Evangelical Leadership Summit on Overcoming Poverty. It was a rare setting for a sitting president but proved to be an interesting exchange of ideas with a couple of thought leaders on the subject of why so many (45 million below the poverty threshold) have so little in the land of plenty.

Moderated by Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, the discussion included Harvard professor Robert Putnam, and American Enterprise Institute’s president Arthur C. Brooks. Putnam’s latest book, “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis,” has renewed interest in the numbers of American children who are mired in poverty with bleak hopes for the future. Brooks has captured the imagination of many with his own brand of compassionate conservatism which sees free enterprise’s most important work as not generating wealth but creating opportunities for the poor.

It was a bold move for President Obama to put himself on the proverbial hot seat because his administration has garnered criticism from those who believe he could do more for the poor. This appearance prompted Martin Luther King, III to renew his call for a “poverty czar” to coordinate poverty reduction efforts across agencies. King was among those who called for the appointment of a poverty czar during the run up to the 2008 presidential elections. Candidate Obama was noncommittal then, however, candidate Hillary Clinton embraced the idea. Appointing a poverty czar this late in President’s tenure does not seem likely, yet those living below the poverty line can use all the help available.

What other profession equips you with the knowledge and skills needed to bring people together to address issues of great magnitude such as poverty? At the top of the list would be Oakland, California Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who currently chairs the Democratic Whip Task Force on Poverty, Income Inequality, and Opportunity. She is the co-founder and co-chair of the Out of Poverty Caucus and chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus.Should the President decide to appoint someone as poverty czar, it would be wise to consider a social worker for the position. Who else would you appoint? Who better understands the many dimensions of poverty than a social worker?

Reducing and eliminating poverty has been at the forefront of Congresswoman Lee’s legislative agenda. One of the first bills she introduced in the 114th Congress in January was H.R. 258—the Half in Ten Act of 2015 that would establish a Federal Interagency Working Group on Reducing Poverty within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that would develop a national strategy to reduce the number of persons living in poverty in America by half within 10 years after release of the 2014 Census Report on Income and Poverty in the United States. She also sponsored H.R. 1305—the Income Equity Act of 2015 that would address escalating income inequality by denying employers tax deductions on excess compensation. However, Congresswoman Lee has much unfinished business as a Member of Congress and may wish to remain.

One might think retiring Senator Barbara Mikulski would consider taking on the challenge of being poverty czar but that’s probably not in the cards as newly-elected Republican Governor Larry Hogan could appoint a Republican as her replacement diminishing the Democrats very good chance of recapturing the Senate in 2016. Should the President look off the Hill, there are several highly qualified social workers who would fill the role of poverty czar.

Michael Sherraden, the George Warren Brown Distinguished University Professor at Washington University in St. Louis is director of the Center for Social Development and has done extensive research on asset development for the poor. Jane Waldfogel, professor of social work and public affairs at Columbia University, played a significant role in crafting policies that help cut Britain’s child poverty rate in half.

Social workers have provided significant leadership for the federal government, most notably Frances Perkins and Harry Hopkins who were key administrators for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the implementation of the New Deal. Social workers are uniquely trained to understand poverty and address it roots causes. If President Obama decides to appoint a poverty czar, he should have social workers at the top of his list.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Senator Debbie Stabenow Introduce Resolution to Support Social Work

Howard University School of Social Work Students at Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill  (from Left to Right) Latoya Parker, Ne’Presha Watkins, Jeanni Simpson, Sydney Wilson, Nadolphia Andou, Tiara Shelton, Crystal Evans, Kyla Payne, Tania Flores, and Kevin Thomas

Washington, DC – March 18, 2015, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Senator Stabenow (D-MI) introduced a Congressional Resolution to highlight the positive impact of social workers on their communities to mark National Social Work Month and World Social Work Day.

On March 17th, 2015, World Social Work Day, the first student-led Social Work Advocacy Day was held on Capitol Hill co-sponsored by Congresswoman Lee in conjunction with Former Congressman Edolphus Towns, Congressional Research Institute for Social Work Policy, Social Work Helper, Greater Washington Society for Clinical Social Workers, and Catholic University of America.

“This resolution brings long overdue recognition to this important profession that is having a positive impact, both at home and abroad. As a psychiatric social worker, I am proud of the contributions that our nation’s social workers make every day in our communities by supporting the most vulnerable,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee.

Congresswoman Lee is the chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus, in which Senator Stabenow is also a serving member. The Congressional Social Work Caucus was founded by Former Congressman Eldophus Towns and ratified by the 113th Congress in 2011.

“Social workers play critical roles in our communities,” said Senator Stabenow.  “Whether in schools, hospitals, mental health agencies, or community service organizations, these trained professionals provide critical support to families and improve the quality of life for all of us.”

If enacted, the resolution will not only observe National Social Work Month and World Social Work Day but also formally acknowledge the diligent efforts of social workers and promote the social work profession.

Social Work Advocacy Day: Ensuring the Future of the Social Work Profession

CapitolHillDCHP

Washington, DC- On March 17, social work students and social workers will attend the first Social Work Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill  launched by Social Work Members of Congress.

With the support of the Greater Washington Society for Clinical Social Work (GWSCSW) and the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy (CRISP), Howard University (Jenna Simpson), and Amanda Benjamin (University of Maryland) have organized a late-morning advocacy training for students and emerging professionals, to complement the Congressional Social Work Caucus “Social Work Day on the Hill”.

The day’s events will provide an opportunity for students to learn how policy is shaped and how pertinent issues are addressed the affect the profession as a whole. A major focus will be the Social Work Reinvestment Act (SWRA), a groundbreaking initiative created to address the challenges faced by social workers and recommend strategies to maximize the services social workers provide, with recommendations spanning recruitment, research funding, educational debt, salary inequalities, and more.

In-person training will provide an opportunity for millennials to voice ideas and concerns to legislators and congressional staff, to speak up about the need for support for professional growth and innovation in the field, and to experience the power of getting involved in direct advocacy.

#YSocialWork

The social work profession can be viewed as the back­bone of health care and social services with more than 650,000 individuals with social work degrees employed in the field.  It is also one of the fastest growing careers in the United States: the Bureau of Labaor Statistics (2012) anticipates that the percentage of Americans who are employed in a variety of social work settings is expected to increase by more than 100,000 jobs by 2022.

A 2013 Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) Annual Survey of Social Work reported that 46% of Master’s degrees were awarded to individ­uals aged 25–34 years, 86.4% were women, and 31.2% were from under-represented groups.  By field placements, 22.9% of master’s students were placed in mental health, compared to 1.8% in administration and 0.8% in social policy.

Why are millennials entering into the profession and how can this profes­sion adapt along with society to the millennial culture? Through the use of social media, our advocacy project will provide each social work student an opportunity to share their narrative of what led them to join the profession of social work

Since the beginning of the year, it has been an utmost honor to be able to organize such a meaningful event where social workers can gather together and cele­brate the profession. Our project will continue, after Student Advocacy Day. We want students to realize that they do not need to wait to be licensed to get involved or to be politicians to make policy changes. They can visit Capitol Hill and have a voice at the policy making table on our future professional careers. There will be more opportunities to learn, to advocate, and to participate in social media campaigns supporting social work as we begin Social Work Month in March.

I pledge to uphold social work values and engage in generativity with those who train after me. I invite you to join me in paving the way for younger generations to ensure the future of the social work profession.

Social Work Members of Congress Launch Social Work Day on the Hill

WASHINGTON, DC—Spearheaded by former Congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns and joined by former Congressman Ronald V. Dellums and current Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA13), Tuesday March 17, 2015 has been declared Social Work Day on the Hill.  A reception will be held in Room B-340 of the Rayburn House Office Building from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. to highlight the day dedicated to celebrating contributions social workers make to Congress and the federal government.  The event’s theme is Engaging Congress in the Pursuit of Social Justice.

More than two dozen social work organizations and schools are collaborating to create the event in conjunction with the Congressional Social Work Caucus, founded by Mr. Towns in 2010 during the 111th Congress. Congresswoman Lee chairs the Social Work Caucus.  A focal point of the day will be stepping up efforts to pass the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA13) succeeded Congressman Edolphus Towns as Chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus
Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA13) succeeded Congressman Edolphus Towns as Chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus

“Having a day for social workers on the Hill has been a dream of mine for a long time,” the former lawmaker acknowledged.  “This will be a day held each year when social workers from all walks of life can gather on the Hill to celebrate the many accomplishments we have made in Congress and salute the many social workers working with the federal government to create a more just and equitable society for all people.  March is Social Work Month so this is the perfect time to do this.”

Towns, who served 30 years in the House representing central Brooklyn, NY before retiring in 2013, earned his M.S.W. degree at Adelphi University’s School of Social Work.  He first introduced the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act in 2008 during the 110th Congress and it has been re-introduced in succeeding Congresses, most recently in the 113th Congress by Rep. Lee as H.R. 1466.  A companion bill, S. 997, was introduced in the Senate by Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.  Both Lee and Mikulski are social workers.  Congresswoman Lee earned her M.S.W. degree at the University of California, Berkeley School of Social Work.  Sen. Mikulski is a graduate of University of Maryland School of Social Work.

“As a former psychiatric social worker, I know first-hand the impact that social workers have on our communities. Professional social workers continue to work on the frontlines, helping individuals overcome adversity, connecting families to critical care services, and making communities thrive,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee. “As the proud Chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus, I am looking forward to attending yet another successful social work day on the Hill during Social Work Month in March.”

Former Congressman Ronald Dellums, who served in the House from 1971 to 1988 representing the 9th District in Northern California, will be the keynote speaker for the reception.  He later became mayor of Oakland, CA and is currently the Visiting Fellow at Howard University’s Ronald W. Walters Leadership and Public Policy Center.  He was the first African American to serve as chair of the Armed Services Committee.

“I am pleased to help bring social workers to the Hill,” Mr. Dellums said.  “There is a sense of urgency today that did not exist fifty years ago when I first arrived on the Hill.  When Congressman Towns and I first came to Congress it seemed like we had plenty of time to address the challenges we faced.  The world is moving at a faster clip today and too many people are being left behind.  Social work must find the big idea that will define the profession over the next decade which is why it is so important that we all come together.”

There are currently seven professional social workers in Congress—five in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate.  In addition to Congresswoman Lee, other social workers in the House are Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA53), Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL4), Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ9) and Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-MA3).  Sen. Mikulski and Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan are professional social workers.  Congresswoman Lee is the chair of the Democratic Whip’s Task Force on Poverty and Opportunity and founder and co-chair of the Out-of Poverty.  In 2013, she was selected by President Barack Obama as the congressional representative to the United Nations.

For additional information, contact Dr. Charles E. Lewis, Jr., president of the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy (CRISP) at celewisjr@gmail.com. CRISP is a 501(c4) nonprofit organization Towns helped to found to complement the work of the Social Work Caucus.

Middle America Votes for More of the Same: Republicans Dominate 2014 Midterm Elections

The Republicans’ decisive sweep of the 2014 midterm elections should be a wake up call for Democrats, and there are lessons to be learned. People will not go to the polls and vote in large numbers if they do not have a compelling reason to go. Second, Republicans learned from their mistakes and capitalized on their opportunity. Republicans should be careful about being too exuberant in celebrating because this was an election cycle they were supposed to win. Historically, off presidential year elections favor the party not in the White House and several of the Senate seats in play were held by Democrats in red states—states won by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012. Republicans have two years to deliver or they will be in danger of losing the Senate again in 2016 when the playing field will favor Democrats.

Election night was not a complete sweep for Republicans. New Hampshire Sen. Jeane Shaheen managed to fend off Republican challenger Scott Brown and Democrat Tom Wolf unseated unpopular Pennsylvania Republican Governor Tom Corbett. However, Democrats lost races they had a chance to win in North Carolina, Georgia, and Maryland. In Virginia, former governor and current U.S. Senator Mark Warner was expected to win handily but clings to an ultra slim lead over Republican Ed Gillespie. In my very blue state of Maryland, Democrat Anthony Brown lost his race for governor to Republican Larry Hogan by the significant margin of nine points because he failed to present a compelling vision for the future of the state under his leadership.

The ranks of social workers in the House will be diminished by two as Rep. Allyson Schwartz resigned to make an unsuccessful run for governor in Pennsylvania and Rep. Carol Shea-Porter was defeated again in New Hampshire’s First Congressional District. She lost in 2010 and regained her seat in 2012, but fell three points and 6,000 votes short in this year’s election. You have to wonder if a concerted effort by social workers might have helped overcome her deficit. The five remaining social workers—Reps. Barbara Lee, Susan Davis, Luis Gutierrez, Kyrsten Sinema, and Niki Tsongas all prevailed in their races with relative ease. These five are half of the 10 social workers in the 111th Congress when former Congressman Edolphus Towns founded the Congressional Social Work Caucus.

The Republicans’ capture of the Senate most likely ensures very little progress will be made on some of the most pressing problems facing the country such as economic insecurity among the middle class, the growing ranks of Americans living in extreme poverty and the threat of global warming. Yet there will be pressure on Republicans to raise the minimum wage and produce other policies that will make a difference in the lives of average Americans. The GOP will likely continue its assault on the Affordable Care Act to appease their base on the far right. Of course, these know their efforts will be fruitless without majorities necessary to overturn a presidential veto. The President, on the other hand, will likely sign some of the House-initiated bills that have been waiting in the Senate for this turn of events.

It is very unlikely that Republicans will abandon their supply-side economic preferences for a more equalitarian approach to governing that spreads the wealth. They remain beholden to the “job creators” who poured millions of dollars into campaigns needed to win both chambers of Congress. But it will be much more difficult for them to continue to blame President Obama and the Democratic Party for the lack of progress on the economic front. It will be interesting to watch how all of this plays out. In the meantime, Democrats have their work cut out for them while waiting for Hillary Clinton to come to the rescue in 2016.

President Obama’s policies are not the reason so many Americans remain mired in an economic slump—few of his legislative proposals were able to get through the morass in Congress. Where he fell short was his inability to inspire hope among the populace by articulating a vision of how Americans would be better off because of Democratic policies. Americans do not want more food stamps and social services. Yes, they are needed during economic downturns but what Americans really want is an economy that works for everybody. Few people are really just takers. Most Americans want a decent job and the ability to care for themselves and their loved ones. Can Democrats present a vision for and a path to a more equitable society? Their future and ours depend on it.

Who Will Fight for Social Justice

There is a push among social workers to return to the profession’s strong commitment to social justice. Two significant events occurred last week. On Wednesday, a group of supporters gathered to mark the first year of existence of the Congressional Institute for Social Work and Policy (CRISP) and the presentation of our 2014 Social Justice Champion awards to two social work stalwarts. Rep. Barbara Lee, the Democratic congresswoman from the 13th District in California, and Dr. Nancy A. Humphreys, the founder and director of the Nancy A. Humphreys Institute for Political Social Work, were on hand to receive well-deserved accolades for exemplifying the best of the profession who agitates for social justice. It was an uplifting anniversary celebration with the gregarious former Congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns acting as host and emcee. CRISP executive director Dr. Angela Henderson was on hand to greet our guests and ensure everyone had a good time.

Rep. Barbara Lee

Board members Dr. Darla Coffey, president of the Council on Social Work Education, and James Craigen, Sr., an associate professor at Howard University’s School of social work were joined by NASW social work pioneers Dr. Bernice Harper and Howard University School of Social Work dean emeritus Dr. Douglas Glasgow, along with Dr. Jo Nol, psychotherapist and spouse to Nancy Humphreys, and Dr. Mary McKay, director of the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research and assistant director Dan Ferris. Several of my former students attended and my Clark Atlanta University classmate Alie Redd flew up from Atlanta to help celebrate.

Wednesday’s event was significant because despite the odds, CRISP has survived to begin another year. Our institute was born out of the need to complement the mission of the Congressional Social Work Caucus which I had the honor of helping to create with former Congressman Ed Towns in September 2010. The birth of the Social Work Caucus happened as a result of my personal pursuit of social justice.

I became a social worker because I wanted to do something about the many men of color who were being scarred as a result of the mass incarceration that began in the 1970s. Along the way towards earning my M.S.W. degree in clinical counseling I learned the importance of policy in creating a more just society and completed my Ph.D. in policy analysis. After a stint in academia, I landed on the Hill and found my opportunity with the Social Work Caucus which was created to provide an official platform in Congress for social workers to engage our nation’s representatives. CRISP was launched a year ago with the theme: Unleashing the Power of Social Work on the Hill.

Nancy Humphreys

On Friday, the Maryland chapter of the National Association of Social Work (NASW) held its second annual Macro Conference featuring Dr. Nancy Humphreys and Dr. Jack Rothman whose models of community organizing continues to have a significant impact on how social workers organize communities in pursuit of social justice.

The focus of the conference workshops and activities was on evaluating the current state of social justice in social work. Rothman’s report on the marginalization of macro social work on many campuses has renewed interest in rebalancing the profession’s work in direct service practice and its commitment to social change. The Association for Community Organization and Social Administration (ACOSA) has organized a Special Commission to Advance Macro Social Work Practice that will release its recommendations later in the year.

One of its commissioners, Dr. Linda Plitt Donaldson, an associate professor at the National Catholic School of Social Services, and Dr. Michael Reisch, the Daniel Thursz Distinguished Professor of Social Justice at the University of Maryland, led discussions about the future of social work, the challenges of licensing, and strategies to advance macro social work practice.

The conference was organized by NASW Maryland chapter executive director Dr. Daphne McClellan, and Dr. Ashley McSwain, chair of its Macro Social Work Committee. Proponents of expanding macro social practice do not see this effort as a zero sum game—increasing macro social workers at the expense of direct practitioners. We see this as an opportunity to attract a different breed of social worker with an eye on changing society.

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