$2 Trillion Coronavirus Relief Package Will Support Social Workers, Clients They Serve

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) commends Congress and the White House for passing into law the $2.2 trillion economic relief package that will provide aid to individuals, families and communities.

“Our nation is experiencing unprecedented levels of psychological and economic devastation as a result of this public health crisis” said NASW CEO Angelo McClain, PhD, LICSW. “We applaud lawmakers and the Trump Administration for working quickly in a bipartisan way to bring relief to working class and middle-class Americans, many of whom are struggling to afford housing, food and health care during this pandemic.”

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the third COVID-19 relief package that Congress has enacted in as many weeks, includes extended and increased unemployment insurance, coronavirus testing at no cost to patients (including people who are uninsured), and a $1,200 rebate for all U.S. residents with an adjusted gross income of up to $75,000 ($150,000 if married). It also contains a number of other provisions that will go a long way towards helping people as they cope with this crisis. This includes:

Economic Security

  • $1 billion for the Community Services Block Grant to help communities address the consequences of increased unemployment and economic disruption.

Mental Health

  • Extending the Medicaid Community Mental Health Services demonstration that provides coordinated care to patients with mental health and substance use disorders, through November 30, 2020.
  • Providing $425 million for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to increase access to mental health services in communities, provide suicide prevention services and care for people who are homeless. The bill also includes $45 million to respond to family and domestic violence, including providing services or shelter.

Food Security

  • Waiving nutrition requirements for Older Americans Act (OAA) meal programs to ensure older adults can get meals in case certain food options are not available.
  • Increasing the budget for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by $15.5 billion, and $8.8 billion in additional funding for Child Nutrition Programs in order to ensure children receive meals while school is not in session.
  • Providing $200 million for food assistance to Puerto Rico and the territories to ensure these citizens receive more support during the pandemic.

Child Care and Development

  • $3.5 billion for the Child Care Development Block Grant. This funding will allow childcare programs to maintain critical operations and ensure first responders and health care workers can access childcare during the pandemic.
  •  $750 million for Head Start to meet emergency staffing needs.

Housing

  • Providing $3 billion in rental assistance protections for low-income Americans.
  • Including $900 million in Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funds to help lower income households heat and cool their homes.

Despite being the largest stimulus package in the nation’s history, more relief will be needed due to the scope and severity of the pandemic. The legislation comes amid record-breaking unemployment claims. While there are funds in the bill for unemployment insurance coverage, that benefit is time-limited and does not cover workers’ full salaries. Further, low-income and other marginalized communities will disproportionately experience the impact of this public health crisis.

In terms of food security, despite the increase in the SNAP budget, the package does not include a 15 percent increase in the SNAP maximum benefit.  Also, COVID-19 prevention and intervention services among vulnerable populations such as those in prisons, jail, juvenile detention and immigration detention and people who are homeless was also only partially funded.

We are also disappointed that only 20 percent ($400 million) of the $2 billion needed to ensure an inclusive and fair voting process for primary and general elections was provided and allows discretion by states. NASW along with 200 organizations called for full funding of this effort in order to remove all barriers to maximum participation in the 2020 election for communities of color and marginalized communities.

Despite these gaps, which NASW will be working to address in anticipated subsequent COVI-19 relief packages, the legislation does include provisions that are helpful to social workers. Employers may provide a student loan repayment benefit to employees on a tax-free basis. An employer may contribute up to $5,250 annually toward an employee’s student loans, and such payment would be excluded from the employee’s taxable income. Also, the Secretary of Education is authorized to postpone student loan payments, principal and interest for six months, through Sept. 30, 2020, without penalty to the borrower for all federally owned loans.

The package will also facilitate even greater regulatory flexibility in telehealth than has already been implemented through prior COVID-19 policy actions. The bill gives the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) authority to waive requirements so that enrolled providers, including clinical social workers, can provide telehealth services using audio-only devices (such as telephone landlines). Under recent CMS guidance, clinical social workers and other eligible providers can, during this public health emergency, use smartphones with video chat apps such as Skype and Apple Facetime to provide services. They can also continue to use HIPAA-compliant video conferencing platforms, which was permissible prior to the pandemic. NASW will continue its advocacy to ensure that audio-only access is permitted by Medicare, which is already allowed in a number of states.

“This economic stimulus plan is an important step in helping our nation cope with this crisis,” McClain said. “We are also glad it will give social workers some of the supports that they need, such as greater flexibility to practice telehealth as they continue doing the hard work of ensuring clients access to services, including health care and mental health care they need as our nation contends with this pandemic.”

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW), in Washington, DC, is the largest membership organization of professional social workers. It promotes, develops, and protects the practice of social work and social workers. NASW also seeks to enhance the well-being of individuals, families, and communities through its advocacy.

Rep. Bass Introduces The Foster Youth Mentoring Act

On June 23, 2017, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) introduced legislation to authorize funding to support mentoring programs that have a proven track record in serving foster youth. Rep. Bass serves as a Co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, which is a bipartisan group of lawmakers dedicated to improving the country’s child welfare system.

“It is critical that we raise awareness about the unique challenges young people in the system face,” Bass said. “In all of my years working in child welfare, meeting thousands of children either in or out of care, we’ve heard their voices clearly: They want a consistent source of advice and support–someone that will be there when it matters most and for all the moments in between. Many people think of mentors as something supplementary. But for these kids, sometimes it’s all they have. I’ve introduced this piece of legislation to not only showcase the importance of modernizing the child welfare system but also to raise awareness about this important national issue. There are kids in every congressional district that would benefit from this bill’s passage.”

“Youth in foster care face enough challenges. Having a consistent caring adult in their lives shouldn’t be one of them,” said MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership’s CEO David Shapiro. “Mentors offer much-needed stability and support academic achievement, professional and social-emotional development, and provide the kind of individual attention often not possible through the child welfare system.

The Foster Youth Mentoring Act would expand urgently needed access to this critical asset for so many more young people in need. Closing this support and opportunity gap for youth in foster care through evidence-based relationships can help reverse the negative outcomes we see far too frequently for these young people compared to their peers. MENTOR thanks Representative Bass for her tremendous leadership in working to improve outcomes for these young people and elevating the personal stories of foster youth to a national level through her work in Congress.”

Read their joint op-ed in the Huffington Post about the importance of mentorship here.

Bill Summary

The bill connects youth in foster care with adult volunteer mentors by providing support for mentoring programs for foster youth. The bill would:

  • Authorize funding to provide support to mentoring programs that serve foster youth. Programs would be eligible to receive funds to support the expansion of their services to more youth in foster care and to improve services for current foster youth in their programs.
  • Ensures that mentoring programs participating in the grant program are currently engaged or developing quality mentoring standards to ensure best practices in the screening of volunteers, matching process and successful mentoring relationships.
  • Provide intensive training to adult volunteers who serve as mentors to foster youth to assure that they are competent in understanding child development, family dynamics, the child welfare system and other relevant systems that affect foster youth.
  • Increase coordination between mentoring programs and statewide child welfare systems by supporting the expansion of mentoring services for foster youth.

The Foster Youth Mentoring Act seeks to address the need for greater support of mentoring programs that serve youth in foster care.  Foster youth face challenges as they navigate growing up often without the support of a consistent caring adult. The Foster Youth Mentoring Act seeks to fill that gap to provide foster youth with the social capital, resources, and support they need to develop positive relationships and connections.

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 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.

Paul Ryan and the Poor

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Watching the proceedings on the floor of the House of Representatives on the occasion of the election and swearing-in of Rep. Paul Ryan (WI-) as the 54th Speaker of the House, one might be convinced that discord had been banished from this hallowed legislative arena and that all is well with at least one chamber of Congress.  I think Rep. Ryan may have gotten more hugs from Democrats than he did from Republicans.  Members from both sides of the aisles greeted the incoming Speaker enthusiastically hoping that the Wisconsin Republican will be the leader who can curtail the rancor in the House and make it more legislatively productive.

That’s a tall order even for someone presidential candidate Mitt Romney declared to be the intellectual leader of the Republican Party.  His party is fractured.  The 40-member Freedom Party believes it has been betrayed by the House leadership which led to the ouster of John Boehner.  Their support of Speaker Ryan is conditional on his support for their policies.  Democrats seem willing to give the new Speaker the benefit of the doubt, but they will not countenance repeated attacks on President Obama.   Outgoing Speaker John Boehner provided Ryan with an extended honeymoon when he ushered through a two-year budget plan at the consternation of the Freedom Caucus and the 167 Republicans who voted against the bill.  Speaker Ryan acknowledged the honeymoon will be brief—“about 35 minutes,” he said during hisMeet The Press interview.

promised changes in procedure.  He says he’s going to wipe the slate clean—that the House will reinstitute “regular order” and give all members a voice in proposing legislation.  Let’s see how that goes.  He promised no changes in policies or politics.  He promised not to work with the President on immigration reform and to continue to undermine the Affordable Care Act.

Speaker Ryan has established a reputation as a policy wonk and economic maven based on several glossy and well-promoted proposals.  His budget 2013 budget proposal The Path to Prosperity was excoriated by Nobel laureate and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman as not a plan but a set of assertions with magic asterisks about trillions that will be saved on to-be-announced spending cuts.  He was clear about what he would cut: Medicaid by turning it into a block grant, Medicare by transforming it into a voucher program, and taxes for corporations and the wealthy.  The National Journal rates him as the most conservative speaker in history.

Paul Ryan’s elevation to Speaker does not bode well for the poor in this country.  During a recent hearing of the House Budget Committee, conservative philosophy reverberated throughout testimony and remarks: poor people can only be helped by removing government assistance that erodes their motivation to be personally responsible.  Last year Rep. Ryan released his vaulted plan to help the nation’s poor, Expanding Opportunity in America, that Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) said would likely increase poverty and reduce resources for the poor.

In the long run, Speaker Paul Ryan may have been right when he flatly turned down the job when it was first offered.  In his new position, he must face the public—something he has not done well in the past.  Remember not long ago he was completely overwhelmed by Vice President Joe Biden during the 2012 vice presidential debate.  Sooner or later the Speaker must give straight answers.  He will have to provide specifics about the policies.  During his Meet The Pressinterview, moderator Chuck Todd repeatedly pressed him for one idea he would advance as Speaker.  Ryan would only say that Republicans would no longer be timid about their policies but will be offering a bold agenda.  As chair of the Ways and Means Committee, Paul Ryan has spent the last year working on tax reform yet he could not or would not offer one specific item that he would promote as the new leader of the House Republican Caucus.

I do not want to be a hater, and I sincerely hope Paul Krugman, Bob Greenstein and a host of others are wrong about the new Speaker.  I really hope those Democrat who recalled how much they enjoyed working with him are spot on.  I sincerely hope he proves me wrong.  But my guess is the months leading up to November 2016 are going to be pretty ugly.

Congress Falters and Criminal Justice Reform Stalls

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Despite members of the Democratic and Republican parties both expressing the need for reforming the criminal justice system, efforts remain stalled in Congress due to the Republican majorities in the House and Senate inability to pass several key legislative bills. Infighting between conservatives and the Republican leadership has stalled the House and Senate from completing passage of legislation to fund transportation and infrastructure.

The Senate agreed on a six-plan for highway funding that included a five-year renewal of the controversial Export-Import (Ex-Im) bank. Conservative Republicans in the House refused to support the Senate’s long-term transportation bill, but agreed to vote on a three-month extension of current legislation which the Senate is expected to approve. This allows the House to leave for its six-week summer recess.

Failure to agree on a long-term plan to fund the nation’s transportation and infrastructure needs exemplifies why Americans are frustrated with Congress. A May Gallup poll reported a 19 percent favorability rating for Congress. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) issues a quadrennial report on the nation’s transportation infrastructure. Its 2013 report graded the nation’s infrastructure at D+, estimating 3.6 trillion dollars would be needed by 2020 to bring infrastructure up to good condition.

Yet Congress has not raised the primary funding mechanism—the tax on gasoline and diesel fuel—since 1993 when it was raised to 18.4 per gallon. Adjusted for inflation, it is now worth about 11.5 cents. Had it been indexed to inflation it would be about 30 cents. Increase fuel efficiency also erodes the monetary value of the tax. As a result Congress had to make transfers from the General Fund to the Highway Trust Fund in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013, and 2014. In the meantime, highways, roads and bridges continue to deteriorate.

According the ASCE, nearly a third of the nation’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition costing Americans millions of dollars in additional car repairs. Why not pay the gas tax?

Passing a stopgap measure ensures more time will be spent later in the year wrangling over these same issues. Several critical issues will be waiting for members of Congress when they return from their recess the day after Labor Day. The clock will be winding down on the 60-day review period for the Iran nuclear agreement.

Then there’s funding the federal government. Congress will have just 12 working days to pass a continuing resolution needed by October 1 to keep the government operating. Legislation authorizing the Federal Aviation Administration also expires on October 1. The debt ceiling needs to be raised before the end of the year or we will be facing another potential shutting down of the government. The fate of the Ex-Im Bank still needs to be resolved. And that pesky Transportation bill will be right back on the table.

Given Congress’s inability to function, it is small wonder that we have seen scant effort to pass legislation reforming the criminal justice when both parties agree that the issue must be addressed—a true rarity in this day and age.

Two bills are worth watching. One, a bill for the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (S.1169)—sponsored by Iowa Senator Charles Grassley passed unanimously by voice vote this week by the Judicial Committee which Grassley chairs. The legislation has not been fully authorized since 2002. The fight will be to restore funding for delinquency prevention programs which were drastically cut during the Bush administration. A companion bill—the Youth Justice Act (H.R. 2728)—was introduced in the House by Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-VA3).

The second bill to watch is the bi-partisan Safe, Accountable, Fair, and Effective (SAFE) Justice Act of 2015 (H.R. 2944) co-sponsored by Rep. James F. Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-WI-5) and Rep. Scott. The bill will overhaul the federal prison system based on proven reforms done at the state level, including reforming the probation system. The bill is truly bi-partisan with 19 Democrats and 18 Republican co-sponsors.

Both the bills would make significant steps towards reforming our broken criminal justice system however, neither will get much attention unless Republicans find a way to resolve their differences and get Congress back on track. They say they can do a better job of governing than Democrats. So far they have little to show to backup their claim.

Fueling the Political Machine: Kristie Holmes on Campaign Finance Reforms

There is something very special about a social worker in public office. As social workers, we are bound to an ethical code to uphold social justice, provide service to others, bolster the dignity and self-worth of all people, understand human relationships and communities, and act with competence and integrity in all our endeavors. When considering how these core values shape social workers’ singular objective to make the world a better place for everyone, I think most people can agree that these are the kinds of people we want representing us in government. That is exactly what Kristie Holmes is planning to do in her campaign for Congress representing California’s 33rd district.

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Kristie Holmes (right) at United Nations

Kristie Holmes is a breath of fresh air for Los Angeles County. Unlike her top opponents, Holmes has not been a participant in the troubled public administration in her region. Rather, Kristie has been fighting at the front lines as a case worker, community organizer, and social policy scholar. As a social work professor at the University of Southern California and small business owner in Los Angeles, Holmes is in touch with the people in her community and is raising quite a following among younger voters, who are sick of establishment politicians and nepotism.

So what’s the problem? Why isn’t her name up in lights with the best of them?

Sadly, along with her virtuous political agenda and clean slate comes a major shortcoming: Money or as she refers to it in her blog, “Trial by Fundraising!” And while we all know campaigns always require money, Kristie Holmes has been exposing political financial requirements to that will make your stomach ache. According to the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, the average congressional campaign costs over $1 million per candidate and the average senate campaign costs $4.3 million (while many go as high as $10 million and 15 million).

This leads many concerned citizens to ask, who has that kind of money? Certainly not the families and citizens politicians are supposedly “representing.”  These unprecedented financial requirements not only distract elected officials from their primary role as lawmakers, but paves a clear path for encouraging special interests in politics. As Kristie explains:

“When it is all over, what do we have to show for it?  How much have we collectively spent- on what exactly?  It certainly doesn’t go to those who need it.  In fact, it goes to funding things that voters clearly despise.”

As a determined, trail-blazing social worker, Kristie Holmes is standing up to the political establishment. She is running her campaign on policy, not politics and financial deal-making. With her hard earned, modest budget, Holmes is inspiring awe as she unwavering fights for a seat at the table. As fellow social workers, we are very proud. In her campaign blog, title “Kristie’s Adventures in Running for Congress in the Wild West” Holmes documents the process of running an honest campaign amidst a corrupt landscape of Super-PACs and sneaky political loopholes:

Money & PoliticsTo begin the process, there is a $1,740 non-refundable fee to get your name on the ballot. Okay, steep but do-able.  But wait, it doesn’t stop there. In order the get your name and 250-word blurb printed in the voting guide (the sample ballot given to all voters before they cast their vote) candidates must pay an additional $8,600.

If you want this available in Spanish (which is spoken by about half of L.A. residents) it costs another $17,200! Further fees are required for each additional language. Just the fact that there is a language fee at all, from a social justice perspective, is ethically questionable considering the US Census reports 56.8% of L.A. residents do not speak English at home. So, all in all, it actually costs a whopping $18,940 just to have a meager presence at the ballot box.

Now, comes the campaign. There is the usual stuff: yard signs, door-hangers, TV commercials, etc. These are the kind of cost most people expect from campaigns and millions of dollars can also go into funding these. Luckily, there are low-costs alternatives to raising political awareness such as relying heavily of social media and people power in the community- the tactics Kristie Holmes is well versed in as a macro social worker.There are countless, nearly insurmountable hidden costs all along the way. Just last week, for example, Kristie was denied invitation to a candidate debate forum because the organizers required candidates to have raised over $100,000 in order to attend. 

Seriously? Television commercials are one thing; denying candidates a right to speak at political debates- that is another. Requirements such as these are normal; they are a part of a regime to perpetuate the political status quo, stifle real social progress, and represent the interests of the few over the many. According to the LA Times, the Pacific Palisades Democratic Club created the requirement (which was possibly as high as $200,000) to allow only “viable” candidates to participate, as not to “dilute the session… by including candidates with little or no chance of winning.” Yet, isn’t is also true that barring these candidates from the debate is directly contributing to their poor chances of winning?

Kristie also points out that candidates for California’s 33rd congressional district only found out about the current congressman’s retirement in late January. Established candidates with an existing FEC number had less than three months to acquire their current campaign funds. However, the time frame was much shorter for new candidates who needed to apply for a FEC number before fundraising could begin. As Holmes speculates, “Perhaps a candidate has a long line of wealthy, waiting funders ready to go when they announce (due to fame or personal fortune).” Whatever the funding sources or tactics are, one this is clear: our current political system is designed to pander to wealth and power.

When a real candidate “of the people, for the people” emerges, the powers that be quickly shut them down. In such a climate, it is not a surprise that our congress looks like a Hampton country club full of white men shaking hands. As social workers and citizens, we cannot sit quietly as the political machine attempts to push aside highly qualified candidates like Kristie Holmes. The system will not fix itself. It is up to us, as voters and social change leaders, to demand better and to put people in office with integrity. We must support Kristie Holmes and raise awareness for her campaign.

As a congresswoman, Kristie pledges to fight for open government and to put an end to fraud and corruption in her district. She will fight for gender equality, equal access to education, improved care for veterans, and to put an end to the war on drug through the decriminalization of marijuana. As a social worker, she will fight for all socioeconomic groups but most importantly, those who are most in need.

Why can’t we have a Congresswoman like Kristie Holmes? I believe we can.

Learn more about Kristie Holmes and how you can support her campaign. Follow Kristie’s blog, “Kristie’s Adventures in Running for Congress in the Wild West

Follow Kristie on Twitter @DrKristie

Kristie Holmes is Running for Congress Despite Hurdles

There are seven social workers in the U.S. House of Representatives. Kristie Holmes wants to be the eighth. An adjunct associate professor at the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work, she is one of 21 candidates who will compete in the June 3rd primary to replace the venerable Henry Waxman as the Democratic candidate for California’s 33rd Congressional District. She is 39 years old with an MSW from USC and a Ph.D. in community social work.

Kristie is facing formidable hurdles including two strong opponents in Wendy Gruel who ran for mayor in Los Angeles last year and State Senator Ted Lieu. Yet, she has chosen to spend her time and money in an uphill run for Congress. Social workers should support her because we need more social workers in Congress and other legislative offices. A strong showing of support for Kristi will encourage others to run. In this day and age, policies matter, but politics perhaps more. I got the opportunity to talk to Kristie about her improbable run and why she is willing to take risks to win a seat in Congress.

How did you get the idea to run for Congress?

I was talking to friends and it occurred to me that I seem to have hit a wall when it comes to making change. It’s not happening because we’re not in the places we need to be. I said maybe I should run for Congress or something. I didn’t mean it seriously but they said it was a great idea and I should do it. Then I got a text message that Waxman was retiring and his seat was open. I have been talking to students in my class about making change for years. And with the opportunity to be at the UN and watch how organizational change is made in the world made me even more interested in how our government works. I was probably among the more apathetic social workers when it came to politics other than voting and signing petitions. I had no interest in getting involved politics.

When did you get serious about running?

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Kristie Holmes

We talked about the vacant House seat in my policy class and someone said we should go to the pre-endorsement conference in Norfolk. I posted it on Facebook and suggested that someone should run. So I decided to attend the conference to see what the process was like. It was confusing but I stayed and made a two-minute speech. When I went back to class there was great interest and then I had to make the decision to file as a candidate. I decided to pay the nonrefundable $1740 filing fee because I figured that’s about how much I would pay to go to a conference. Next I was told that I would have to file forty to sixty signed petitions and that they were due by 5:00 p.m. that day and had to be collected in the district in Los Angeles.

I was an hour and forty minutes from the district but discovered candidates had five additional days to file if the incumbent was not running. After I turned in the petitions I was told there was another fee of $18,940 if I wanted to have a blurb with my information as well as my name printed on the sample ballot in English and Spanish and it would cost more if I wanted the blurb printed in additional languages. It was Monday when I turned in the ballot and I had to hop a plane to New York City for a conference at the UN. While in session I got a call that only 38 out of 60 of my petitions were valid. My husband was able to get the additional signatures to the office and I was officially on the ballot.

What is your strategy for winning the primary?

I realize there is going to be an incredible of money spent on stuffing mailboxes. I suppose Ted Lieu and Wendy Gruel are going to spend a lot of money on television advertising. My idea is to mobilize younger voters who are more electronically connected, especially social workers. We can make a huge difference and that doesn’t cost much money or time. I have students and we have campus full of students. I know I have to raise money but we can do a lot with eighty to a hundred thousand dollars. I have many talented friends and supporters who are good with things like creating online videos. We do need to raise some money to do thing like targeted mailings and I have friends who are willing to help.

So are you beyond the point of no return . . . fully committed?

Even my father was not very happy about the idea at first. He was worried about the bad things that can happen in politics. But he’s come around and says he’s proud of me and that I shouldn’t jump off the moving train. My colleagues are very excited about it and want to be helpful. They are introducing me to their networks. There’s no turning back now.

What are your expectations?

I’m worried that if I start making headway in the race, my opponents will come after me. I’ve seen what’s happened in past races and it makes me nervous. I don’t want to expose my family to any grief. One of my opponents hired a very scary guy and that gives me concern. I would not want to reciprocate but the truth is I cannot afford to go there so I have to do something else. People are weary of negative politics. The one thing I can do is research and I know traditional methods of outreach like TV advertising are reaching a smaller percentage of voters. One thing that motivates me is that only eighteen percent of the members of Congress are women and there are few members under the age of fifty years old.

Do you see your candidacy as inspirational to other social workers?

That is the hope. That is truly the thing that is driving me because of the apathy I’m seeing. I want to see more social workers doing this at a younger age. I have nothing against older people but we need a variety of ages and perspectives. It’s hard to get young people to be politically active unless they see other young people involved. I am more surprised than anyone that I am doing this. It took me paying the filing fee and taking a look at the process to make me realize there is a whole other well that impacts our clients that needs to be addressed.

The Need for Congress to Pass the ABLE Act

by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW

U.S. Capitol Building 1

The ABLE Act has the potential to improve the financial and employability statuses of people with disabilities in this country, if enacted.  The Achieve a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act gained the attention of the disability community when it was first introduced into Congress on February 13, 2013.  The ABLE Act was not decided on last year due to the fact that the Congressional session ended before the bill could be considered; however, it has the support of over 400 co-sponsors in the House and Senate.  Having such a large amount of support gives many disability advocates, including yours truly, great hope that the Act will be considered and passed this year.

The purpose of the ABLE Act is to prevent disabled savers from losing their benefits by affording them the opportunity to open special tax advantaged saving accounts.  Under current policy, those who receive social security benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid cannot have saving assets of more than $2,000 in an account, and cannot earn income over $700 a month.  Those two financial restrictions unfairly places beneficiaries in the proverbial “a rock and a hard place.”  If beneficiaries have assets or income that exceed these financial thresholds, their benefits will be cut off.  If they decide not exceed these financial thresholds, then their employment and independence opportunities will be severely reduced.

I will give you a fictional example of the “rock and a hard place” choices people with disabilities like myself endure when it comes to wanting to be independent, but fear losing one’s benefits:

“Anita” was offered a part-time telecommuting position that would pay her the current minimum wage rate of $7.25 an hour.  Anita currently receives SSI and Medicaid benefits because she has a physical disability.  In order to keep her benefits, Anita could only work 24 hours a week, which would total $174 a week of earned income for her.  With this weekly schedule, Anita would earn $696 a month before taxes, which would put her under the $700 monthly financial threshold amount by $4.  

Anita would have to report her new income source to the Social Security Administration (SSA), which would take into consideration her total earnings, and not the amount Anita actually brings home after taxes.  The SSA has a special mathematical formula it utilizes to figure how much of Anita’s earned income should be counted against her benefits.  Anita’s monthly wage before taxes was $696; SSA would subtract 85 from this amount, and then divide that amount by 2 to figure how much her SSI benefits for that month should be reduced.  So, $696 – 85 would equal $611.  $611 divided by 2 would be $305.50.  Social Security would count $305.50 against Anita benefits, which would reduce her SSI benefits amount from $721 a month to $415.50 a month.  (The 2014 cost of living adjustment (COLA) for SSI beneficiaries is $721.)

This gross reduction of SSI does nothing to elevate Anita out of poverty.  Anita would have only $1,111.50 ($415.50 in reduced SSI, and the $696 (before taxes) she earned from working) to live off each month, which is not enough to cover the basic human needs of food, housing, and clothing.  This example is not hypothetical; it is fact.  This is the dreadful choice people with disabilities have to make:  do I work and put my benefits in jeopardy, or do I live off $721 a month that will keep me deep in poverty, and not allow me to be able to afford housing, transportation, entertainment, have an emergency fund, “nest egg” savings, and other “luxuries” that most take for granted?

This is why the passage of the ABLE Act is imperative – it would extinguish the current barrier of working and saving by ensuring that money saved through ABLE accounts would not be counted against the federal benefits an individual receives.  The ABLE Act would ease financial strains by allowing the tax-free saving accounts to cover qualified, essential expenses such as medical and dental care, community based supports, employment training, assistive technology, housing, education, and transportation.

The bill would assist in supplementing the benefits they already receive from private insurances, Medicaid, SSI, their employment, and other sources.  An ABLE account would provide people with disabilities the same types of flexible saving tools that other Americans have through college savings accounts, health savings accounts, and individual retirement accounts (IRAs).  Returning to our example, if the ABLE Act passed, Anita would be able to open an ABLE account where she could deposit her earned income and keep her SSI and Medicaid benefits intact.  This newfound freedom would allow people with disabilities to work without the fear of being penalized.

Like millions of Americans with disabilities, I am anxiously waiting for the passage of the ABLE Act.  From a personal standpoint, the ABLE Act would open a plethora of doors for me as an entrepreneur and a freelance writer.  Not having to worry about how much I earn or how much I have saved would be a joyous moment.  People with disabilities want the same things as everyone else – to work, have healthcare coverage, and be able to living independently and support themselves and those they love.  The ABLE Act would turn those hopes into reality.  Please urge your federal representatives to support and pass the ABLE Act this year because it is long overdue.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of The Denver Channel.)

Government Shutdown: Why Can’t the White House and Congress Get Along?

US Capitol

I have found that negotiation and mediation are advocacy tools that successful social workers use to bring about change within individual client systems as well as in policy making. Social workers sometime use creative advocacy techniques that may extend beyond traditional channels in order to protect their clients from harm while balancing organizational policies and procedures that often restrict their ability to do their jobs.  

The government shutdown over funding the Affordable Health Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, reminds me that strong advocacy is often adversarial and can have negative consequences. What happened to using negotiation and mediation as advocacy tools?  While there are many benefits to Obamacare, few would dispute there is much opposition to the law and full implementation. Mediation is a viable and evidenced-based process for resolving disputes peacefully and collaboratively.  Why take the American people hostage?

Perhaps it’s time for each of us to become mediators. I would like to ask everyone who reads this column to become an armchair mediator with a fair and impartial in examining the government shutdown dispute. Before we can assume the role of armchair mediators, we must first put aside our political affiliations as well as our position on Obamacare to be objective in the matter.  We need to honestly ask each of the parties  “What if you are absolutely right, where do we go from here?”

A mediator would ensure all stakeholders, not just the loudest voices, at the table were heard. The politician, the everyman…Mediators ask difficult questions: for example, where is the opportunity for common ground and how do we respectfully acknowledge opposing points of view?  Read More

In my inaugural column for the Social Worker Helper, my hope is to share my expertise as a mediator  for over 30 years and highlight the use of mediation and negotiation as advocacy tools.  All opinions are valued.

Social Work and Mahatma Gandhi: Part I of IV

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“Be the Change You Want to Se in the World” – Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi was a true social worker fighting against the evils of society. He always said, if you want to do social work, you start it yourself. He was very worried about poverty of India, and his political movements were also a type of social work.

Poverty was the main focus of early social work, and it is intricately linked with the idea of charity work. However, it must now be understood in much broader terms. For instance it is not uncommon for modern social workers to find themselves dealing with the consequences arising from many other ‘social problems’ such as racism, sexism, homophobia, and discrimination based on age or on physical or mental ability.

Modern social workers can be found helping to deal with the consequences of these and many other social maladies in all areas of the human services and in many other fields besides. Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Your fear about my being engrossed in the political strife and intrigues may be entirely set aside. I have no stomach for them, least at the present moment, had none even in South Africa. I was in the political life because there through lay my own liberation. Montagu said, “I am surprised to find you taking part in the political life of the country!” Without a moment’s thought I replied, “I am in it because without it I cannot do my religious and social work,” and I think the reply will stand good to the end of my life.”1

mahatma-gandhi familyMahatma Gandhi wrote, “It has been suggested that this programme turns the Congress into a purely social reform organization. I beg to differ from that view. Everything that is absolutely essential for swaraj is more than merely social work and must be taken up by the Congress.

It is not suggested that the Congress should confine its activity for all time to this work only. But it is suggested that the Congress should for the coming year concentrate the whole of its energy on the work of construction, or as I have otherwise described it, the work of internal growth.”2

Whereas social work started on a more scientific footing aimed at controlling and reforming individuals (at one stage supporting the notion that poverty was a disease), it has in more recent times adopted a more critical and holistic approach to understanding and intervening in social problems. This has led, for example, to the reconceptualisation of poverty as more a problem of the haves versus the have-nots rather than its former status as a disease, illness, or moral defect in need of treatment.

This also points to another historical development in the evolution of social work: once a profession engaged more in social control, it has become one more directed at social empowerment. That is not to say that modern social workers do not engage in social control and many if not most social workers would likely agree that this is an ongoing tension and debate.

Mahatma Gandhi Wrote, “The hospital started under such auspices with fairly ample funds at its disposal should grow day by day and supply the need of the middle class women of Bengal. This hospital reminds us of the fact that social work was as dear to the Deshbandhu as political. When it was open to him to give away his properties for political work he deliberately chose to give them for social service in which women’s service had a prominent part.”3

Mahatma Gandhi Wrote, “We realize, they say, that our real work lies in villages, and that while doing this work we can also do other social work among the villagers. By popularizing the use of the spinning-wheel we can convince people what a terrible disease their idleness is. Wherever the volunteers work in a spirit of service, they succeed in creating a sense of brotherhood among the people. And the difficulty of selling khadi, they point out, is avoided by following the method of getting people to stock their own cotton and produce khadi for their needs.”4

References

  1. VOL. 17 : 26 APRIL, 1918 – APRIL, 1919, Page- 124
  2. VOL. 29 : 16 AUGUST, 1924 – 26 DECEMBER, 1924, Page-  501
  3. VOL. 34 : 11 FEBRUARY, 1926 – 1 APRIL, 1926, Page-  446
  4. VOL. 36: 8 JULY, 1926 – 10 NOVEMBER, 1926, Page-  66
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