North Carolina 2014 Short Session, Week 8: Medicaid Budget Miracle

Social workers found victory during the eighth week of the legislative short session with the acceptance of the proposed medicaid budget. On Monday night, the last day of the fiscal year, the Senate rejected the House mini budget, Senate Bill 3 without even voting, and they returned the bill to the House for further consideration. In kind, the House then returned the bill back to the Senate on Tuesday stating they did not follow the rules by rejecting Senate Bill 3 without a vote. This unusual game of ping pong with the budget sent the bill to a committee meeting with the appointed budget conferees and no further discussion happened on the floor of the House or Senate.

MiraclesOn Wednesday, the appointed 41-member budget conferees held an unusual open-to-the-public meeting. During the meeting, differences in the House and Senate budgets were discussed and the group broke into a private negotiating meeting. Upon return to the public meeting, the Senate announced that they would accept the House Medicaid budget with a few compromises that had been made before the meeting starting.

The acceptance of the Medicaid budget means the aged, blind, and disabled citizens on Medicaid will not lose services. We are excited the Senate acted on behalf of our advocacy efforts to save services for these populations. While the Senate agreed to the Medicaid spending, the conferees are still working out differences in teacher pay raises, the education lottery, and film incentives.

Bills with Relevance:

  • House Bill 1181 North Carolina Medicaid Modernization: This bill was introduced a few weeks ago with controversy in Section 10 regarding a pilot for I/DD patients living in certain group settings to have integrated physical and behavioral health care under Cardinal Behavioral Health. Under the new edition, this section becomes a study with multiple stakeholders involved. The bill was discussed in committee and passed the House with a vote of 113 to 0. The bill now goes to the Senate where support is underwhelming as Senators do not believe this plan, supported by the House and the Governor, will do much to make Medicaid a cost predicting system.
  • House Joint Resolution 1262 Suicide Prevention Resolution: On Wednesday, House members read the suicide prevention resolution on the floor. The resolution directs the Legislative Research Commission to study ways to prevent suicide among minors and veterans including training for key health care providers that work to assess, treat and manage patients with suicidal ideation. After overwhelming, bipartisan support from legislators who shared personal stories on the floor, the bill passed with no opposition and was sent to the Senate. Following the reading of the resolution, NASW-NC, NAMI-NC, The Mental Health Association, and others were recognized in the gallery by legislators for our support and continued work on suicide prevention in our state. Representative Cunningham (D-Mecklenburg), a primary sponsor of the legislation, gave a heartfelt, personal speech on the bill and credited social workers and educators for help during her family’s situation. We are grateful to the many legislators who stood up to speak on what can be such a tough topic for many.

What to look forward to this week:

Legislators have announced they are finished with committee work. They will use this week to focus on the budget and work out their differences. There are a few more bills expected to be heard on the floor this week but it should mostly be a quiet week with budget work being done behind closed doors.

NC Grade Drops to “F” Due to Laws against Reproductive Rights

Durham, North Carolina — Today, NARAL Pro-Choice America and NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina published the 23rd edition of Who Decides? The Status of Women’s Reproductive Rights in the United States. The report, published each year, provides individual letter grades on the status of women’s reproductive rights for all 50 states and provides a comprehensive view of choice-related legislation and court decisions in those states. NC was scored as an anti-choice state for its 2013 legislative record on reproductive freedom, getting a letter grade of F.

Hannah Osborn (NARAL NC Intern Class of 2013, NC State Class of 2014) speaking at a pro-choice Rally last March.
Hannah Osborn (NARAL NC Intern) speaking at a pro-choice Rally last March.

Read NC’s report card here:

“In 2013, extreme lawmakers railroaded through a series of new laws that are part of a nationwide, well-funded anti-woman agenda sweeping the nation.  These laws are ill-conceived and out of touch with the majority of North Carolinians who believe lawmakers have no place in a woman’s personal, private reproductive decisions,” said Suzanne Buckley, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina. “In 2014, NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina is as committed as ever to holding the opponents of a woman’s right to choose accountable, and working hard to elect lawmaker who share our pro-choice values and belief that every woman should have not just the right, but the opportunity to make whatever decision is right for her.”

North Carolina is one of the twenty-four states nationwide that enacted anti-choice measures in 2013.  During the 2013 legislative session, the NC General Assembly passed and the Governor McCrory signed three new anti-choice bills into law, despite his campaign promise to not support any additional restrictions on access to abortion in North Carolina.  These laws require NC DHHS to create new restrictions on women’s health centers, ban women from obtaining comprehensive insurance coverage through North Carolina’s health care exchange that includes coverage for abortion care, even when they use their own money to purchase their plan.  The law also strips over 370,000 city and county employees of access to comprehensive reproductive health insurance coverage that most Americans currently have through their employer-based insurance coverage.

In total, 24 states—AK, MT, ND, SD, CO, KS, OK. TX, IA, MO, AR, LA, WI, MI, IN, OH, PA, VA, NC, SC, GA, AL, MS—passed 53 anti-choice measures. The four primary types of laws restricting reproductive freedom included:

  • Banning abortion at different stages of pregnancy;
  • Banning insurance coverage of abortion;
  • Restricting abortion providers to close them down;
  • Helping anti-choice fake clinics called crisis pregnancy centers.

But the tide is turning, as elected officials like Texas state Senator Wendy Davis and Michigan state Senator Gretchen Whitmer took strong public stands to protect reproductive freedom. Ten states—AL, CA, CO, HI, IL, NH, TX, VA, VT, and WV—enacted a total of 15 pro-choice measures (twice as many as last year), fighting back against anti-choice extremists. (Source)

The full report is available at 

Photo Credit: NARAL Pro-Choice NC

Press Release: Social Work Helper Magazine was not involved in the creation of this content.

Redistricting: The Hidden Side of Voter Suppression

by Shoshannah Sayers, Deputy Director SCSJ

On Monday, January 6, 2014 the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) presented oral arguments before the North Carolina Supreme Court, urging the court to find that the 2011 redistricting maps are unconstitutional and racially discriminatory.

NC Gerrymander Map
NC Gerrymander Map

During the summer 2013 trial, SCSJ represented several statewide nonpartisan groups, including the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, The North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute, Democracy NC, and the NC NAACP, seeking to overturn racially-packed voting districts in North Carolina in the consolidated cases Dickson v. Rucho and NAACP v. NC. On July 8, 2013, shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, a three-judge panel in North Carolina state court unanimously rejected all challenges to the 2011 redistricting plans for Congress, State House and State Senate.

SCSJ has argued that redistricting maps were racial gerrymanders, unfairly dividing the state into “black districts” and “white districts,” in violation of the U.S. Constitution and the state constitution.  In doing so, the ability of minority voters to participate equally in the political process was intentionally limited.

SCSJ also argues that the plans violate the North Carolina constitution’s demand for geographically compact districts.  The enacted plans contain districts that are grossly non-compact and split far more precincts than prior or alternative plans.

Post-election analysis conducted by SCSJ and presented at trial showed that the 2011 redistricting plan placed one in four North Carolina voters into “split precincts,” leading to widespread confusion about who would be on the voter’s ballot on Election Day and resulting in the actual disenfranchisement of thousands of voters. These districts also placed a difficult burden on elections officials, who often struggled to assign voters living in split precincts to the correct districts. Across the state, thousands of voters assigned to the wrong district received the wrong ballot on Election Day. Those living in minority communities were disproportionately affected by this error. All of this evidence was presented to the State Supreme Court by SCSJ.

“Racial gerrymandering to create separate ‘white’ and ‘black’ districts is both wrong and unconstitutional. We need to get out of the mindset that black voters will only elect a black candidate and white voters will only elect a white candidate – this just isn’t true anymore. In the end, racially packed voting districts take away the ability of all racial groups to elect candidates of their choice,” said Melvin Montford, Executive Director of SCSJ client the North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute, Inc.

“More than 2,500 voters in just seven monitored counties lost their right to vote in 2012 because of the unprecedented way district lines zigzagged through precincts and neighborhoods in order to divide voters by race,” said Bob Hall, executive director of SCSJ client Democracy North Carolina. “That kind of disenfranchisement points to the serious problems with what amounts to computerized apartheid – and hopefully the court will say it must stop.”

Relevant court filings are available below:

Plaintiff-Appellants’ Reply Brief

Motion for Temporary Restraining Order

Amicus Brief 1

Amicus Brief 2:

Amicus Brief 3

NC DHHS Hosted a Twitter Town Hall on Mental Health Reform

NC Department of Health Human Services

The North Carolina Department of Health Human Services (NCDHHS) held a twitter town hall today using the hashtag #ncmentalhealth in order to measure public perception of Governor McCrory’s new Crisis Initiative Solution for mental health reform. Governor McCrory is int the process of assembling an interdisciplinary team of experts from health care, law enforcement, government and community leaders. Some of the duties expected of the group will be to make recommendations on current system inefficiencies, data sharing, and potential legislation.

Dave Richard, Director of the Division of Mental Health, was present to answer questions on behalf of the Agency. Unfortunately, it appeared Agency officials were experiencing some technical difficulties with the twitter town hall format. Many of the participants who engaged sent out tweets expressing concerns about the communications team ability to moderate the chat.

According to a press release by NC DHHS in early November, the agency stated:

“Improving mental health and substance abuse services is a top priority of our administration,” said Governor Pat McCrory. “By bringing people together to implement strategies that work, we can better serve the thousands of North Carolinans who struggle with mental illness and substance abuse.”

“With today’s announcement, we begin a focused, long-term effort to ensure that individuals and families who are experiencing a mental health or substance abuse crisis know where to turn for the help they need,” said DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos, M.D. “In turn, we can begin to reduce the tremendous burden that these issues place on hospital emergency departments and law enforcement.”

Although there were several tweets about Medicaid expansion and health care exchanges, the Agency did not make any comments on whether it will factor into their plan for mental health reform. However, there was a generally concensus that the mental health care system in North Carolina is in desperate need of repair.

Some of the major concerns that arose during the town hall was access, quality of services, reimbursement, and potential replacement models. Below, you can view a full interactive archive of the twitter town hall which will give you the ability like, add to your favorites, and retweet.

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You Know That We Can Hear You Right: Interview with Don Yelton

Don Yelton

Once again, comedians have accidentally exposed extremists within the Republican party. In this case, the Daily Show interviewed Don Yelton who is the current North Carolina GOP leader for the Buncombe County precinct, or at least until this interview aired. This video captures the essence of the current state of American politics. If you were ever concerned that voter restriction laws were being used to disenfranchise minorities, this video confirms that you were wrong.

The North Carolina Republican led legislature recently passed one of the most restrictive voter id laws in the country. Many civil rights advocates believe the implementation of these laws across Red States are designed to prevent vulnerable populations from voting. However, Don Yelton makes it very clear that voter id laws were not designed to eliminate voters based on race, creed, color, age, sex, or religion. The real reason voter id laws were created is to deter all Democrats from voting.

After this interview aired, it went viral which led to the GOP asking for Yelton’s resignation. According to Business Insiders,

A North Carolina county precinct GOP chair resigned on Thursday after an offensive interview that aired on “The Daily Show” Wednesday, in which he said “lazy black people” want “the government to give them everything.”

“Yes, he has resigned,” said Nathan West, a spokesman for the Buncombe County Republican Party. The party had asked for Don Yelton’s resignation in direct response to the interview, West said.

The interview, conducted by correspondent Aasif Mandvi, was on the topic of North Carolina’s new voter ID law, over which the Justice Department has sued the state. On “The Daily Show,” Yelton argued that the law wasn’t racist, though he added that he’s “been called a bigot before.” Read more

This is an example of the GOP leading our government, and it will also serve as good evidence when the US Department of Justice takes North Carolina to court over its restrictive voter id laws.

NC NAACP President Key Note Speaker For NC State Wide Fast Food Worker Strike

2006-12-01 14.20.14

NC NAACP President, William Barber III, was a speaker at the August 24th March on Washington hosted by Reverend Al Sharpton and the National Action Network (NAN). I finally was able to catch up with Reverend Barber even though I had to go to Washington, DC to do it. Reverend Barber has been the catalyst in organizing Moral Monday protest, and since the North Carolina General Assemble is not in session, he has been taking Moral Monday Protest on the road.

Moral Monday protest have been planned for 13 cities all around the state to help organizer create awareness and unity on the multitude of issues facing North Carolinians. I had the opportunity to ask Reverend Barber about the Republican Board of Election in Elizabeth City possibly setting a precedent that will prevent college students in campus housing from voting.

Reverend Barber said, “It’s Wrong…It’s wrong! Whatever they do that violates people constitutional rights, they will be filling lawsuits to seek redress in the court.” For more information on the 13 city Moral Monday tour, you can visit the NC NAACP website at

However, Reverend Barber is on a different mission today as he provides the key note speech supporting a state-wide strike by fast food workers.  According to the NC NAACP Facebook Event Page:

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II will be giving the keynote speech at the Fast Food Workers Strike for Good Jobs and Freedom on August 29th. Workers from over 60 fast food restaurants across the state will go on strike on the 29th to demand a living wage. No one can survive on $7.25/hr.

Dr. Barber and the NC NAACP stand in solidarity with these courageous fast food workers and we call on the Forward Together Movement to join us. We will gather at Martin St. Baptist Church at 1001 E. Martin St. in Raleigh at 3:30 and march together through downtown Raleigh. Dr. Barber will speak following the march.

Photos by Deona Hooper, MSW

North Carolina Voter ID Bill in the National Spotlight

By Shoshannah Sayers, Deputy Director

The North Carolina General Assemby recently passed a new set of voting rules that will disenfranchise an estimated 319,000 North Carolina voters, 30% of whom are African American. North Carolina voter id bill is gaining national attention because it will be the most restrictive voter id laws passed by any state in the country. SCSJ will fight to the end to ensure that every eligible voter is able to exercise their fundamental right. Here is the story of just one of the voters who effectively lost their right to vote thanks to the new Voter ID bill.

Alberta Currie is the Great-Granddaughter of slaves. Mrs. Currie, her parents, and her children all worked picking cotton and tobacco in the fields of Robeson County NC. She is the mother of seven, 78 years old, and does not have a birth certificate because she was born at home. She has voted consistently since she first became eligible to vote in 1956. She does not have a photo ID and cannot obtain one in North Carolina without a birth certificate.

When Mrs. Currie first went to vote in 1956, election officials made black voters wait until whites had voted while keeping them standing at the back of the line. In 2012, she and her daughters stood in line to be the first ones to vote on the date that early voting opened. When it was her turn, local election officials told her that she better not come back to vote unless she gets a picture id. She and her family consider it a matter of personal dignity to be able to go in person and vote. It is one thing that lets them say to the world that they are equal to everyone else.

Her is an excerpt of Alberta’s interview with CBS News;

Long Time NC Voter Alberta Currie
Long Time NC Voter Alberta Currie

But the North Carolina bill, entitled the Voter Information Verification Act (VIVA), goes much further. It rolls back the increasingly popular early voting period from 17 days to 10 days, even though 61 percent of ballots in 2012 were cast before election day. The bill outlaws early voting on Sunday, which is particularly popular with predominantly black churches bussing “souls to the polls.”

In 2012 in North Carolina, Democrats cast 47 percent of the early votes, and Republicans cast 32 percent, according to a CBS News analysis.

The North Carolina bill repeals same-day registration, which allowed 100,000 North Carolinians to register and vote early in one stop in 2008 and again in 2012. In last year’s general election, about 1,300 of those same day registrants, or one-and-a-half percent, could not be verified after the votes were counted, according to the State Board of Elections. Read Full Article

On July 25, 2013, the North Carolina General Assembly passed harsh new rules that will prevent hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians like Alberta from voting.

Here are some of the ways the new law will affect all NC voters:

  1. The early voting period will be shortened by a week, from 17 days to 10.
  2. Same-day registration during the early voting period will be eliminated.
  3. Straight-party ticket voting will be eliminated.
  4. Sixteen and seventeen year olds will no longer be able to pre-register to vote.
  5. College IDs – even from state universities – will not be acceptable forms of identification to vote.
  6. Out of precinct voting will no longer be allowed.
  7. Counties will no longer be able to extend voting hours due to long lines or other extraordinary circumstances.
  8. Political party chairpersons will be allowed to appoint up to 12 poll “observers” to monitor the polling places and to challenge voters they suspect of voter fraud.
  9. New restrictions make it much more difficult to set up satellite polling stations, which will make it more difficult for elderly and disabled North Carolinians to vote.

What you can do:

  • Educate yourself and your community about this bill – what it means and what it doesn’t mean. The requirement to have a state-issued photo ID to vote doesn’t go into effect until 2016 – that’s four years away. Make sure everyone knows that they can still vote without photo ID until that time.
  • Stay informed about the law. Great resources for updated information include Democracy North Carolina and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice
  • Help people get the ID they need – if you know someone in NC who doesn’t have access to state-issued photo ID, encourage them to call the Southern Coalition for Social Justice at 919-323-3380 x 152 so we can help them get the documentation they need to vote.
  • Make a donation to help overturn the voter suppression legislation. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice is filing lawsuits in state and federal court to stop this law from taking effect. Limiting early voting, eliminating same-day registration, requiring state-issued photo ID, and other provisions of the bill will directly affect too many voters, and bring no measurable benefit to NC elections. Please help us fight for every North Carolinian’s right to vote. Your donation makes it possible for us to provide the best legal assistance to every individual affected by the new Voter ID law. With your help, we can make North Carolina a state where every eligible voter can exercise the franchise. Click here to learn more or donate.

On July 29, 2013 SCSJ staff attorney Allison Riggs appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show to discuss these issues. Below is Allison’s interview with guest host Melissa Harris Perry.

What Does the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) of 2013 Actually Cover

On July 10, 2013, just two weeks after DOMA was ruled unconstitutional, members of the Senate Committee ruled 15-7  in favor of  Senate Bill 815 called the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) of 2013. This is the eighth revision since being introduced in 1994. The purpose of ENDA is to ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

This update is a significant improvement upon previous revisions. In the past, it has been unable to fulfill its intended purpose due to significant language that has been excluded.  Gender identity was not proposed in the wording of the bill until 2007 when introduced in the Senate and then removed once making its way to the House. On two occasions in 2007 and 2009 have attempted to include gender identity in the wording only to have failed and died in committee.

So what does all this talk about sexual identity and gender really mean?

Sexual identity and gender are completely different concepts:

  • Sexual orientation refers to the sex of those to whom one is sexually and romantically attracted.
  • Gender refers to the attitudes, feelings, and behaviors that a given culture associates with a person’s biological sex.WorkplaceDiscrimination

Across the United States, LGBT  individuals are being fired from their place of employment due to discrimination. According to a June 13 poll by the Pew Research Center, 21 percent of LGBT adults say they have been treated unfairly by an employer in hiring, pay, or promotions.

In addition to workplace discrimination, LGBT employees face wage disparities, and studies show that the transgender population is disproportionately affected.

Currently, 29 states provide no state law to protect lesbian, gay, and bisexual employees from being fired and 33 states lack state laws protecting transgender individuals.

North Carolina is an employment-at-will state which means that an employee can be fired for no reason except in cases of discrimination. Federal protection legislation such as ENDA is important because statutes will prohibit employers from discharging employees based on impermissible considerations such as sexual orientation or gender.

Senator Richard Burr(R-NC) was quoted stating:

“Like most Americans, I strongly oppose and condemn unjust discrimination, it is my hope that our society can be tolerant of different people and ideas. That said, whenever we consider new legislation we must always consider the interplay of new laws with existing rights. I am concerned that the ENDA bill would go beyond our existing laws protecting individuals’ employment rights and would impose new burdens and legal uncertainties regarding the exercise of religious liberties. Therefore, I plan to oppose the bill.”

Despite Richard Burr’s comment, a poll released on June 17, 2013, by Public Policy Polling (PPP) found that a strong majority of North Carolinians 71% think employers should not be able to discriminate against employees based on their sexual orientation compared to just 20 percent who think they should be able to.

ENDA is now one next step forward to being approved by the senate where it will hopefully be approved. It must be passed by both the senate and the house before President Obama can sign it into law.  Click here to track the progression of the bill.

NARAL Pro-Choice NC Helped Send Bat Signal Across the Tarheel State

by Deona Hooper, MSW attempted a secret coup against abortion rights when they added a last-minute amendment, House Bill 695, onto a bill banning Sharia Law. The new abortion law would close 35 of the 36 abortion clinics currently in North Carolina. However, NARAL Pro-Choice NC overnight helped rally supporters to show up to the North Carolina General Assembly when the bill was scheduled for debate despite Republicans not listing the debate on their schedule.

Lately, the North Carolina Legislature has been no stranger in gaining attention from the national media. Whether it’s giving tax breaks to the rich while cutting unemployment from the most vulnerable, North Carolina Republicans has declared war on everyone who falls outside of the richest individuals in the state. Drug testing welfare recipients, denying marriage equality, denying Medicaid expansion, and voter restrictions laws are just a few of the policy measures the super-majority Republican legislature has championed as their highest legislative priorities.

Republicans should be getting tired of all the Moral Mondays and Witness Wednesdays protesters ascending onto the North Carolina General Assembly, but they do not appear to be affected. Unless, their latest  move was an attempt to avoid more protesters. I regret to inform them that it didn’t work since MSNBC Rachel Maddow live streamed the event on the Maddow Blog. Then, she did a follow-up review on her regular broadcast praising the efforts of organizations like NARAL Pro-choice NC who helped get the word out across the Tarheel State.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Photo credit: News and Observer-Crowd Photo and Policymic-NARAL Pro-Choice NC Photo

Advocacy Series: Advocacy for Beginners

We live in a democracy, and it takes a certain amount of citizen participation to make any democracy work.  I have decided to write a series on advocacy because many people do not become aware of issues until after the decision is made. Laws become passed and then affect lives before many people ever notice.

10825063-dictionary-definition-of-the-word-advocacy1Staying active on policy issues may be a chore for many, however, we live in a society where decisions are made by those that speak up.

There are many ways to stay current on issues in your area. You can register to the newsletters of those that represent you, find bills on the NCGA website, or “call to action” sites like Progress NC.

While calls to action are crucial, direct contact to your legislators are more important. Be strategic and contact your legislators when they are not in session, they will have more time to talk to you.. There are three main reasons or strategies to contact your legislators.

  •  To build the relationship
  • Provide them with information
  • Ask for action.

Politicians are less likely to listen to your call for action if they have never heard from you before, or if people only respond for a call to action like on a lobby day. Lobby days are a great way to get the message out that a lot of people feel strongly about something. However, it can be overwhelming for legislators and if you want them to have a personal response to your issue, it might be more effective to communicate with them when they are not so busy.

Take time to set up a meeting when they are not in Raleigh and in their home district. Schedule a meeting and introduce yourself, let them know you are a constituent, provide them with information that you know about. Developing a personal relationship is the most effective way to influence the legislators’ positions on an issue. Phone calls, faxes, e-mails and letters are all great but are not as effective as face-to-face meeting.  They are not experts and many times are so removed from the lives of “everyday people”, that they welcome any perspective or feedback.

Some things to remember…

  • Ask for your legislators’ view on an issue. Be kind and don’t react angrily if you don’t get the response you want. Stay calm and be polite always.
  • Use the specific bill or legislative action. Give several brief points why your member should support this legislation.
  • Research your issue and back to them if you cannot provide information about an issue on the spot.
  • Remember to say thank you; and send a thank you note after your visit. This letter helps build a relationship over time with the legislator.

Whatever your preferred method, communication is key for having the society that we want.  Next in the series Tactics and Strategy in Advocacy.

Interview with Social Work Professor Barbara Zelter Arrested for Protesting with NAACP Against Bad NC Policies

I had the opportunity to catch up with Social Work Professor Barbara Zelter after she escaped the clutches of the Wake County Detention Center due to being arrested for protesting with NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) against the terrible policies of the North Carolina Legislature. Barbara teaches social work policy at North Carolina State University, and her class has been following legislation being enacted by North Carolina’s new super majority Republican led state legislature which means they control the majority in the house and senate with a Republican Governor. Here is some of our conversation:

SWH:  Tell us a bit about your background, and what fuels you to fight for vulnerable populations?

Barbara: It seems to me that some people are born with a kind of radar that makes them notice social unfairness.  Even as a child, I noticed things like rich and poor neighborhoods, and I seemed drawn to those living nontraditional lives on the edges.  I grew up in a middle-class family in Rochester, New York, the daughter of a Jewish Dad and Episcopal-turned Catholic Mom.  We had international visitors, and this opened my eyes to various cultures and traditions as enriching and fascinating. Religion was always compelling to me for its mysteries and the social gospel.  In 2008, I returned to hometown of Rochester after 40 years to get a master’s in theology at the seminary across the street from our childhood home.

Barbara Zelter Social Work Professor NCSUMy Masters of Social Work was from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH), in 1991 (I get a degree every 20 years: college 1971, MSW 1991, MA in Theology 2011–we’ll see about 2031).  When starting with the MSW program in 1988 we had three children in elementary school.  Before that, I had been an employment counselor, an editor, a refugee sponsor, a crisis counselor volunteer for Hopeline, and other things.  I went to social work school wanting to be a therapist, like most students.  But graduate school can be wonderfully transformative if we allow it to be.

I was solicited to move into the Administration and Policy track at UNC and never looked back. The next 20 years involved community organizing for health care equity, living wages, campaign finance reform, against the death penalty, in support of families on TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), etc.  The pay was terrible, but the people doing the organizing inspired me.  A graduate school internship opened my world to the layer of community agitators for social justice all over the state.  I knew I had found a home with them.

Ten years were with the North Carolina Council of Churches; for five of those years, two others–Kathy Putnam (MSW, with the NC Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Coalition) and Micheline Ridley Malson (my first Social Work MSW teacher and a consultant now)–and I ran a statewide nonprofit called JUBILEE, around welfare reform.  It was a project of the NC Council of Churches and emphasized getting the voices of the families in the welfare system into the new welfare reform plans, and also involving trained teams in religious congregations to partner with families who would be losing benefits.  We had a third area of work, called Public Samaritan, that spoke for economic justice–jobs that paid enough, health care for all, etc.  We believed that you must combine community support with policy advocacy.

After that, I worked with the Council from 2003-2007 as their statewide organizer around peace and economic justice.  Then came seminary–I finished there in December of 2010 not wanting to be ordained and having exactly zero clue what might be next. I landed unexpectedly at NC State, opening field internships in advocacy organizations and then teaching.  It was a close friend from my MSW program, Dr. Jodi K. Hall, now the Field Director at the Department of Social Work at North Carolina State University (NCSU), who invited me to come to NCSU.  As she says:  “Don’t burn any bridges!”  You never know which of your classmates, teachers, field people, or others may open a door for you one day.  I am in debt to Dr. Hall; I dearly love working with students at this stage of my life.

SWH: I have heard many social workers say that social work is not political. What is your response to this statement?

Barbara: You know, we are at a time in history that greatly dishonors the proud foundation of social work in the settlement houses. A tradition that blended solidarity with immigrants and the poor emphasized a strong critique of the social systems that neglected whole segments of the population.  We live in a time where the Mary Richmond casework model of professional casework and the subsequent intrapsychic (focus on the psychology of the individual) tradition has almost completely taken over the professional social work field. I have a lot of opinions on this subject!

Serving individuals and families is a great social work task–relieving pain, finding resources, helping people find their ways to health, and community support is the area in which most social work jobs can now be found.  I do not blame students for following the areas where they actually can make a livelihood around caring and empowering people.  This is good work.  However, the alternate path of community organizing, policy focus, and political advocacy simply does not offer the same range of paid job opportunities.  There was more funding for these things a generation ago.

Teaching social policy and social welfare history, I find that students DO care about unfair policies, programs, and systems, but are simply not sure what to do to make a difference in the beyond-agency world of policy and politics. A world clearly driven and controlled by moneyed interests.  As they learn who actually represents them in the government, and which groups are out there to advocate on issues they care about, they DO jump in with fervor.

I think that at this time, it is best to acknowledge that social work jobs are mostly in the personal healing world but to challenge all service providers to always see individual situations in the analytical context of broad sociopolitical structures.  Service-provider social workers should be attuned to ways they can best advocate at the local, state, and national levels for funding, programs, and policies best for the common good.

Some will be called to serve at the next level, direct action, and civil disobedience, in the classic civil rights tradition of nonviolent resistance.  To me, we are at a historical moment that demands far more than polite letters to legislators.  Our bodies must be on the line.  Arrests and jail must be part of our social work advocacy options.

SWH: Social workers have largely been absent from the national conversation on discussing the social safety net that we implement. How did this happen, and what needs to be done to get back into the conversation?

Barbara: Schools of Social Work need to emphasize social justice, political economy, where the dollars come from for programs people like, and our Code of Ethics mandate around civic voice and participation.  I love the fact that NCSU’s Department of Social Work has this clear focus.  Additionally, individual social workers need to simply put in the time it takes to stay connected with local, state, and national advocacy groups that speak out on these social safety net policy issues while they are busy day to day in the trenches.

Unfortunately, we live in a time of debt bondage, just like it was described in biblical times.  Students carry an impossible load of debt, so of course, they think mainly about how to get a job that pays well.  The debt forgiveness movement around student debt is a hopeful sign.  If Wall Street gets a bailout for bad decisions and risky investments for the gain of the few, why does our country not “bail out” students who will be the leaders of our next generation?  When individual social workers are not heavily involved in the national social safety net conversation, we need to look clearly at the fiscal and political systems that keep the whole “caring community” in dire financial straits.  When we do not have national health insurance, a national care plan for the elderly, etc., the entire social services public and private sectors run like hamsters on a wheel to serve the millions of desperate Americans.  Unless we get our heads out of the trenches of service and deal with the large systems, the future for social workers and those we serve is bleak, I believe.

SWH: Many journalists and other disciplines become experts on social welfare policy because of their writing. What can be done in social work education to encourage more students to use technology and journalism to advocate for vulnerable populations?

Great question. I am mightily encouraged by the young generation’s use of social media, visual arts, and nontraditional communication methods to gain attention to issues, raise funds, tell stories, attract support, and move people to political action.  This is an exciting time, and social workers can be part of this transition from classic and sometimes punitive social service systems to creative, crowd-sourced means of rebuilding communities of support and equity.

SWH: What is next for you, and how should others get involved and become aware of the rights being rolled back in North Carolina?

Barbara: I am a member of the NAACP, and as one of the first group of arrestees during this North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) session, I will remain involved in the continuing witness on each of the “Moral Mondays” coming up at the legislature until they close this summer.  Much credit goes to the North Carolina Chapter of the  NAACP for catalyzing a “movement, not a moment” at this time.  Scholars, medical professionals, students, clergy, and others are coming together in a bold way to speak loudly against drastic racist and anti-poor legislation.

We all are naming the culture flip in North Carolina back to the ways of the Old South.  We are becoming an apartheid state once again, and this is serious. The Voter ID bill, for instance, is a blatant attempt to block the Black vote, which was so active in the 2012 election. We are basically at a time when the white old guard is pressing back against the new multicultural majority, resisting the browning of America. This of course is not the language of the discourse, which is around debt and budgets, not cultural change. I hope to encourage more social workers to join in this effort of public witness and resistance.  As Rev. Barber says:  These legislators may do what they do, but it will not be in the dark!  We are watching, and naming the violation of moral, religious, and social work ethics.

NAACP has produced a string of videos with the statements of all protesters who were arrested. I have attached the video statement of Barbara Zelter, and the others can be viewed on Rev. William Barber’s Youtube Channel.

North Carolina College Students say “We are Taking Our State Back”

state ralley 7Lobby Days and rallies are in full effect at the North Carolina General Assembly this session. Yesterday, students from all over the state protested in Raleigh for jobs, justice, and education which began with the march meeting at the bell tower and ended at the North Carolina General Assembly.

Following the end of the march, several forward thinking speakers spoke on the backwards takeover by the new right-wing government formerly known as the North Carolina State Legislature. Five students were arrested during this peaceful demonstration which now totals 22 arrests in two days over the discriminating laws in our state.

Juan Miranda of the North Carolina (NC) Student Power Union stated ” They won’t let us dream….. we won’t let them sleep. We are only beginning to build our power and we will only get stronger! The resistance to the racist backwards legislature is just beginning!”   NC Student Power Union is hoping to build a grassroots student movement uniting with workers and community organizations to stop the attacks on education and public services. Here is an excerpt from the North Carolina Student Power Website:

5 students have just been arrested in Raleigh, NC as part of a May Day action demanding an end to budget cuts, racist voter laws, and attacks on workers. The five are: Zaina Alsous (UNC-CH),Dhruv Pathak (UNCG), Jessica Injejikian (UNCC), Carissa Morrison (UNC-CH), and Tristan Munchel (UNCG). Click their names to hear their stories!

Please see below a statement the 5 released explaining why they took this action today and make an urgently needed donation to get them out of jail!

As North Carolina students, we have watched our beloved state taken over by dangerous and backwards political leadership. Instead of serving the people of North Carolina by providing healthcare, education, and jobs, Speaker of the House Thom Tillis, Governor Pat McCrory, Senate Pro Tem Phil Berger, and Deputy Budget Director Art Pope have proposed a racist, backwards vision for NC.

From cutting 170,000 North Carolinians from jobless benefits to blocking Medicaid expansion that would have provided 500,000 low-income North Carolinians health care, from attacks on worker and union rights, to racist voter suppression, right-wingers in the legislature have made it clear: our needs have no place in their agenda. Read Full Article

Backward in Values: North Carolina Rolls Back Needed Programs

NC Rolling Back Needed Programs

What happened to the progressive state we once knew here in North Carolina?  This state of ours, which was once on its way to becoming progressive, has turned completely bizarre in its direction.  There is a plethora of policies in our current legislature that discriminates against many of our vulnerable populations. Here are just a few of them:

  • North Carolina GOP Files Arizona-Style ‘Show Me Your Papers’ Bill
  • NC lawmaker equates Islamic prayer with terrorism
  • Lawmakers Pass Bill To Resume Executions In North Carolina
  • North Carolina has power to establish official religion, resolution says
  • North Carolina Lawmakers Introduce Bill To Penalize Parents Of College Student Voters
  • Corporate tax breaks rolled out in Senate committee
  • ALEC-Sponsored Bill To Repeal North Carolina’s Renewable Energy Standard Narrowly Passes Out Of Committee
  • North Carolina ‘Healthy Marriage Act’ Would Set Two-Year Waiting Period For Divorce, Require Counseling
  • N.C. House passes cursive handwriting bill
  • Top North Carolina Republican Introduces Florida-Style Voter Suppression Bill
  • Eleven North Carolina Republicans Sponsor Resolution Saying Their State Can Ignore The Constitution
  • North Carolina Is Going Out Of Its Mind

This has flourished many advocacy efforts throughout the state. With lobby days already scattered out at the Capital such as, Women’s Advocacy Day , Equality NC Lobby Day and Momsrising Chutes and Latters event, there are many more rallies and citizens advocating all of the madness that is going on at the legislature this session.

These policies are going backward in time for our state. Our laws should protect our freedoms and stop discrimination. If you don’t agree with these policies, please contact your representative.

Social Work and Social Media: Tools for Networking and E-Advocacy

There are lots of resources for individuals who are concerned about the fears and ethical use of social media in practice. However, there does not seem to be an equal amount of resources teaching social work and social media, and how they both can be combined for effective networking and online advocacy.

Technology has given us the ability to remove geographically boundaries and connect with others in way that is still very new to us.  However, this same technology has been exploited by the criminal element which has created many fears in using technology for its full capabilities.

Technology has the ability to create new ways of communication that has been previously denied to those without privilege or wealth such as the ability to self-publish, communication with someone abroad in real-time, and gather/organize resources quickly. How can our profession begin to adopt the technological tools utilized in the business world and adapt them to increase our ability to be more effective on the macro, mezzo, and micro practice levels?

There are instances where social work and social media, depending on your job descriptions and direct practice with clients, must adhere to a stricter standard due to safety concerns for the social worker and client confidentiality.

For those who are working on a policy and community practice level, social work and social media is essential in carving yourself as an expert in your field as well giving you the ability to mobilize resources quickly. NASW-NC gives five reasons why social work and social media is an essential combination to aid social workers in their networking potential which are listed below:

  • Opportunity: Anytime you are around others (virtually or in person), you have the opportunity to meet people and uncover what they make have to offer to your life!
  • Exposure: Have you written new research? Starting a new practice? Found a new technique to share? Networking provides the opportunity to expose others to the wealth of professional knowledge you have, and to be exposed to theirs!
  • Contacts and Relationships: Whether finding a new job, a resource for your clients, or simply someone who simplifies your life; contacts are an essential part of the social work profession. Most business is done through referrals!
  • Finding Common Ground: Everyone enjoys the company of others who are like-minded. Our common interests help ignite our passion for the profession and encourage personal growth.
  • Learning: In the line for breakfast at a NASW-NC Conference, or answering a post on LinkedIn; social workers who participate in networking gather information and ideas at a fast pace! knowledge is power!
  • See more at:

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Also View: Online Advocacy

photo credit: Intersection Consulting via photopin cc

NASW-NC Lobby Day: Livingstone College Showed Up

On March 20, 2013, the National Association of Social Workers-North Carolina Chapter (NASW-NC) held its Lobby Day 2013, which always occur on odd number years, at the North Carolina General Assembly. The purpose of Lobby Day is to expose practicing social workers and students to the legislative process and teach them how to advocate for legislation and policies that influence social work practice.

The entire day was focused on macro social work (community practice), advocating for policies in adherence to the social work code of ethics, and being informed on current issues in front of our elected officials that will overwhelming affect the vulnerable populations that we serve. There was one stand-out school in attendance that made their presence known.

Livingstone College in Salisbury, North Carolina, approximately 30 minutes from Charlotte, showed up at Lobby Day 2013 with the largest social work group at the General Assembly despite having one of the smaller programs in the state.

I had the opportunity to talk with several of their students after the session to hear their thoughts and impressions on Lobby Day.

I spoke with Quadash Mellwaine, Kaylan Dawkin, Dontre Perry, Pamela Stephens, Tia Byers, Shauna Little, and Jaleesa Bynum who are all Bachelors of Social Work Students at Livingstone College.

They are pictured in the photo on the right with their Lobby Day Certificates of Attendance from the NASW-NC. They were also aware that Livingstone College was the largest social work group in attendance, and they gave credit to their teachers Ms. Kathy Riek and Dr. Walter Ellis.

Many of them plan to pursue their Masters in Social Work, and they are considering programs such as Clark Atlanta University, University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC), and UNC Greensboro.

It was refreshing to see young social workers at the beginning of their careers who were eager and willing to make the connection between legislative policy and social work practice.

Pictured on the left is NASW-NC Board President Jessica Holton along with Kay Paksoy, BSW  (Director of Advocacy, Policy and Legislation) and  Valerie Arendt, MSW, MPP  (Director of Membership Marketing & Communication).

Kay helped set the tone for the day by relaying to everyone the valuable information they would need on how to approach and talk to legislators.

She also provided an in-depth explanation on the three key pieces of legislation that NASW-NC has thrown its support behind which are Voter Protection Integrity, Prevention of Mandatory Co-Pays for Vulnerable Populations, and Exemption for Children in Foster Care from Corporal Punishment in Schools. You can view her presentation later in the article.

Also, I had the opportunity to talk with Kathy Boyd, NASW-NC Executive Director as well as several other board members such as Jack Register and Jamillah Bynum. They all expressed their excitement about the turn out of social workers, social work professors, and students from around the state. Kathy talked about several initiatives in process such as the rebooting of a policy program started in the late 90’s to connect policy professors and their students throughout the state.

Also, Kathy is spear heading another project to produce a publication of social workers working as Policy Analyst, Lobbyist, or have been elected to public office which is due to be released soon. For more information on NASW-NC activities, you can visit them on their website at

Making Cents of Being Poor

What do we mean when we talk about “poverty and the poor”? How do we define it? How we understand it affects how we respond to it in our culture. Historically the way we have understood poverty is that it is something that people can control, rather than something that is much more complex. A socially systemic issue that makes it almost impossible for people to escape.

If poverty is seen as an individual problem than a community one, than we don’t have to address community concerns such as living wages, lack of affordable housing, lack of public transportation, lack of availability for quality childcare, and lack of healthcare. Unfortunately, the traditional view in our country I believe is that it is an individual concern; that if a person is having difficulty it is their own fault.

In addition to that, we are outdated on how we measure it . The data that has  been used to define poverty in the U.S. was originated in the 1960’s and didn’t take into concern factors such as regional differences in the cost of living across the country. The government did release a new experimental poverty measure last year, however it will not replace the one currently in place. Even though the new version sees more people in poverty.

We need to re-evaluate how we understand poverty in this country and we need to look deeply at how to tackle this problem. Part of this involves challenging the beliefs we currently have. Jack Register, activist and social work professor at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, is aiming to challenge these beliefs in our society. As part of the social work department’s celebration for Social Work month, Jack Register is conducting an interactive experiential guided exercise that will give participants a firsthand look at the state of chronic crisis that plagues so many of our citizens.

This exercise walks participants into an alternate universe of second class living that many people do not experience. This poverty simulation is called Making Cents of Being Poor, and is being held on the UNCG campus on March 27, 2013. Jack Register explains,“The poverty simulation is a way for students to gain perspective about how they not only understand the concept of poverty, but also- and in a very small way- have an emotional response to trying to meet the needs of their hypothetical family.  That is why we chose the name “Making cents of Being Poor.”

This event  includes UNCG students, members of the community and participants invited from five other universities in North Carolina, including North Carolina A&T, and NC State. This will be a huge, all day event, participates and volunteers are still highly needed and lunch will be provided to those that participate. This is an extraordinary event to experience, it is open to the public to observe as well and all are more than welcome.

Photo Credit: Jack Register,  UNCG professor and Rhonda Lang Bruner, a school SW in Forsyth County.  Rhonda was a community volunteer who came to help out.

Building Equity and Opportunity in a Southern City: Mayor Otis Johnson

by Deona Hooper, MSW

Former Mayor of Savannah, Georgia, Otis Johnson, will be kicking off a new lecture series hosted by Manpower Development Corp (MDC) in Durham, NC on February 21, 2013 at 6:00PM EST. Doors will open at 5:30PM for a photo exhibitition by Alex Maness of Danville, Virginia. For almost 50 years, MDC has been dedicated to identifying and removing barriers that separate people from opportunity. They have worked extensively with the Annie E. Casey Foundation in using evidence based research and practices to increase outcomes for vulnerable populations living in poverty.

The Honorable Otis Johnson will reflect on his 30 year career in public service which includes leading the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Youth Futures Commission for his state and being the Dean for Savannah State University’s School of Social Work. Currently, he is a member of the Aspen Roundtable on Comprehensive Community Change, and he will be discussing ongoing efforts to close the gap between communities and their business leaders. The lecture will be held at MDC offices at 307 West Main Street, Durham, NC. The lecture will also include a streaming live web cast of the event. For more information go to

Here is an excerpt from Savannah Now, a local Georgia news paper, on how his legacy may be judged:

First black mayor

From his first days on council, after being elected in 1983 to serve as a District 2 alderman, he sensed the time for a black mayor was near. Floyd Adams, a newspaper publisher, and Robbie Robinson, an attorney, also were serving on council.

Johnson resigned in 1988 to head the Youth Futures Authority. Robinson was murdered in a 1989 mail bombing.

Adams stayed on, working his way from alderman to mayor pro tem. Susan Weiner, the city’s first female mayor, was running for re-election in 1995.

Her administration, Johnson said, “had been a disappointment to everybody.”

“It was an opportunity then for a strong black candidate,” Johnson said. “I thought about it then. I knew I had the qualifications to become mayor.”

He knew, though, that Adams “really wanted it” and, Johnson thought, Adams had earned the right by staying on council. Johnson decided not to run.

Would he have wanted the distinction of being the first black mayor?

“Yes! But I wasn’t willing to have two blacks in the race and split up the black vote and lose the opportunity,” he said. “I told myself, ‘When Floyd can’t run, then it will be my turn.’”

He won narrowly in 2003 run-off against Pete Liakakis. In 2007, with little opposition, he returned on nearly 70 percent of the vote.  Read Full Article

***Update View Archived Chat***#SWUnited Live Twitter Chat-Voter ID Laws and Implications 11/5/12 8PM EST


View archived discussion on Voter ID laws and implications at SWHelpercom-chat-on-2012-11-12.

Join us for a Live Twitter Chat on Voter ID laws and Implications with guest Johanna Fields, MSW Candidate and NASW-NC Intern, on Presidential Election Eve. Johanna wrote an article in the NASW-NC Blog  identifying the issues on both sides of the Voter ID Laws Debate. @SWHelpercom will be the moderator using the hashtag #SWUnited. NASW-NC stands for the National Association of Social Workers-North Carolina State Chapter.

Johanna  is in her last year of the MSW program at VCU in Richmond, VA. She has direct practice experience by working with children through group home and intensive in-home settings and with adults with Developmental Disabilities through in home services. She has focused her education on Macro Social Work and has experience working with the general assembly in VA, volunteering on a Presidential political campaign, and through her current internship where she is gaining a wide variety of macro experience. Her career goals are in the macro arena, but specifically in policy analysis. You can visit her Twitter at @wilwarin712 and/or Linkedin johannafield) for more details.

Here is an excerpt of her article:

The requirement of showing photo identification when voting has become a major point of contention, not only in our state, but across the nation. Last legislative session, North Carolina passed a bill requiring all voters to show photo identification in order to vote. Governor Bev Purdue, however, vetoed it before it became law and legislators were not able to reverse this veto. This is still an important issue as it may return in the 2013 legislative session. It is an issue that divides us along party lines with amazingly few exceptions. The passion from both sides is palpable (and understandable), but perhaps we can set aside the mud-slinging for now and look at this issue through a bi-partisan lens.

While voter integrity and involvement are important and valid issues, there is little concrete evidence of fraud in the current system. This issue is likened to speeding, however, in that a tiny fraction of those who engage in this illegal activity are actually caught. Requiring photo ID is just a piece of the puzzle, as it only stops one form of potential fraud and there are contradictory arguments as to how easy impersonating someone at the polls really is. On the other hand, this law would keep over 460,000 North Carolinians from being able to vote (and those are just the ones who are already registered and have been active in exercising this right in the past) (source: Democracy NC ). This data shows that the law would disproportionately affect minorities and those aged 65 and older.

Read More


Proposal to CSWE on Barriers Public Sector Social Workers Face in Pursuing a Social Work Degree ***Update***

This document was submitted to the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Social Work and NASW-NC for Review prior to submitting to the Council for Social Work Education (CSWE).  I would love to hear your thoughts.  My hopes are to gain enough support, comments, testimonials prior to submission to Council for Social Work Education. So, they can see the need for assessment and change.

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The proposal was sent to the Council for Social Work Education and to the Congressional Social Work Caucus.  Here is the email response sent to me by CSWE President Darla Coffey. NASW-NC and the National Association of Social Workers in Washington D.C has also responded and offered support. NASW National followed up with CSWE on November 30, 2012. However, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill did not respond to my request for support.

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