50 Years Later The War on Poverty Continues

Homelessness in America

50 years after President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a War on Poverty, the US continues to struggle in the fight against poverty. However, recent legislative decisions would not lean towards alleviating poverty for the 15% + of Americans living below the poverty line today. With food stamp surplus monies cut in November, and Unemployment Benefits ending for 1.3 million Americans next month, times are hard and it doesn’t seem as if there will be relief anytime soon.

According to the New York Times:

“Without the panoply of government benefits — like food stamps, subsidized school lunches and the earned-income tax credit, which provides extra money to household heads earning low wages — the nation’s poverty rate last year would have reached almost 31 percent, up from 25 percent in 1967, according to the research at Columbia.”

The way that we socially define poverty changes as society changes. If we were to compare ourselves now to families living in the 1960s- we’d be very wealthy indeed.  However, the formula for the “poverty threshold” has not changed since 1963 as stated in a recent article by the Wall Street Journal.

This formula assumes that the cost of food will make up 1/3 of a family’s expenses. That is not at all true today, when food costs are an average of 1/5 of a family’s expenses and housing costs are creeping over 50%.

As the Wall Street Journal mentions:

“Today [the poverty threshold], it falls short. It fails to account for noncash benefits such as food stamps; for changing expenditure patterns that have shifted the poor’s burden from food to medical expenses and housing; and for regional variation that makes a dollar go further in the rural South than, say, in New York.”

The threshold is updated annually to account for inflation- but that is the only change made to the formula in over 50 years.

Just about everyone agrees that the formula is outdated and does not reflect an appropriate measure of poverty. But finding a solution that appeases bipartisan legislators is difficult. The cost of raising the poverty line to a number that adequately reflects the state of poverty in the US would increase the total number of persons eligible for government assistance by 1% (i.e.the total number of persons in poverty would be 16.1%, up from the 15% quoted above).

What are the long term effects of hiding the number of poor in this country behind an outdated formula, and what will it mean for our country?

Rothman Report Inspires a Student Led Movement

In 2012, Dr. Jack Rothman, a prominent author and academic, issued a report on the current state of social work macro practice. The study identified barriers in schools of social work which have shown a steady decline in social work engagement with community organizing, policy making, and political activism.

Macro Social Work Student Network (MSWSN) received the Student Recognition award from the Association for Social Administration and Community Organization (ACOSA), and I was chosen to lead the expedition to see how we can reinvigorate and shift social workers back into policy makers. I left New York City to go on a fact finding mission in the mid-west in order to collect data and identify concerns from students and academics on the state of macro practice curricula within their universities. I visited four schools of social work which was the University of Texas at Austin, University of Utah, Arizona State University, and Northern Arizona University.

Macro Social Work Student Network

This humbling honor reflects not just the potential of students to affect macro education, but the need for us to be advocates. Anxious to hit the road and meet my colleagues at other schools, I took another look at the Rothman Report which is essential reading for any social worker and especially the macro social worker.  The following findings of the Report manifested themselves during my trip:

  • There is limited integration of macro with micro in the curriculum
  • Macro courses are neglected or marginalized
  • Students are not encouraged to choose a macro program or are deflected to clinical practice
  • There is lack of student interest in or knowledge of macro 
  • Field placements are lacking or problematic
  • Licensure requires many micro courses and leads to little macrocontent

The Macro Social Work Student Network (MSWSN) is a student-driven organization that has been forming campus chapters for macro education advocacy. In turn, this leads to better macro practitioners and healthier communities because social worker are trained to influence policy shifts in order to help improve outcomes for children and families.

Micro level social work is primarily dedicated to clinicians who provide treatment to the individual and/or family. In recent years, social work has shifted from its social justice roots, and it has moved towards the perception of a mental health provider or a child welfare worker.

In my opinion, the profession is dangerously incomplete without macro practitioners organizing in communities, leading and administrating vital agencies, drafting policies, constructing programs for healthier society, and more. Galvanized by the barriers facing macro education, student are working together across the country and in their schools to enhance macro education. On my journey, I met with students and professors to learn more about why they think enhanced macro education is imperative to the social welfare.

Perhaps, it was in the 1980s when the decline in macro education begin to shift. By the 1990’s, a paltry “2.9 to 4.5%” of masters-level students focusing on policy and political involvement according to the Rothman Report. In June, the Network held an event on the current state of macro education with Dr. Loretta Pyles and Dr. Scott Harding presenting on the 2012 Rothman Report.

The Rothman Report added validity to what students were already feeling in their schools which equated to macro education students being underserved. Amazingly, campus chapters have been springing from Massachusetts, Texas to California, and it is reminiscent of “an earlier period [when] grassroots activism and political campaigns were a vibrant aspect of the emerging social work field” (Rothman, 2013).

University of Texas-Austin

At the University of Texas-Austin, I encountered two impassioned MSW students, Elise Fleming and Jessa Glick who led me to Professor Duncan’s classroom. Professor Duncan asserted, “As an educator and social work practitioner I believe robust macro education is critical to fulfilling our profession’s commitment to social justice.  We cannot achieve true social justice one client at a time.” He continued, “To be truly effective social work education must include a strong foundation in macro practice for all students and specific skill development for those students that want to focus on macro practice.  One of the true tenets of macro practice is grassroots organizing and empowerment. I am excited to see the potential of MSWSN to help students learn those skills and strengthen macro practice!”

Ms. Glick made the statement, “I think of macro education as siloed. I don’t see clinical and macro as separate, but curricula enforce a false binary that they are. MSWSN is giving students a chance to collaborate and share experiences.” She continued, “MSWSN allows for sharing of information and innovations/trends within macro social work programs with a space for dialogue. Most importantly, the student voice has a professional platform.”

A few days later I received a message that UT-Austin would start a chapter and focus on assessing the school’s macro curriculum using MSWSN’s assessment survey.

Arizona State University and North Arizona University

The next day, I made my way to the Land of Enchantment at Arizona State University, where I met Judy Krysik’s Program Planning in Social Services class in Phoenix and Nick Taras’ at the Tuscon campus. Assistant Professor David Androff regarded this “as a huge opportunity for ASU social work students.”  ASU’s Policy, Administration, and Community Practice (PAC) students expressed many concerns that would be echoed up north in Dr. Anne Medill’s BSW macro course at Northern Arizona University (NAU).

NAU students, limited by an undergraduate generalist curriculum, threw up their hands with questions such as:

  • Other than what was described, what else is macro social work?
  • What sort of job can I get as a macro practitioner?
  • What about the licensing?
  • Can I actually be a social worker who writes policy?
  • How can we get more macro classes in here?

These are real questions that social work students face across the country and not enough are getting the answers they need. Students are feeling disempowered and misguided by an abundance of myths, misinformation, and mere separation from the facts in order to make intelligent decisions about their social work careers. Ultimately, both the student and our communities suffer.

University of Utah

At the University of Utah, I spoke both with MSW students in Dr. Lindsay Gezinski’s class and in a general information session, each organized by BSW students Carlos Rivera and Rick Reimann. Although Utah only offers a clinical track, students still have macro practice concentration option. One student, Katheryn Dennet stated,

“I see great value in understanding and participating in macro level social work. Systematic change requires many minds – including clinicians – to provide information for our clients. Too often we feel powerless and if we communicate this to our clients we will have done them a great disservice. Learning how to work at the macro level as a clinician is empowering and a crucial part of the social work education. MSWSN’s presentation made me, for the first time, feel excited about a clinician’s role in a large macro setting.”

The Rothman Report

Dr. Rothman started the “Action Recommendations” section of the Report with the following statement:

“There was a strong sentiment for increasing the visibility of the macro area and advocating for its greater status and importance in the field. The major institutions identified as key to attaining this objective are CSWE (in particular), schools and departments, and NASW. These emerge as the core target groups of an action program. Additional targets are the general public, related professions and disciplines, and social work scholarly organizations”

With this statement, I interpret its meaning as stating student involvement in schools and departments of social work is an inherent necessity for the growth of macro practice. While I encourage collaboration with CSWE and the NASW, the development of solutions to barriers to growth in macro education must begin with student action.

As I reflect on my journey, I realized there is more work to be done with MSWSN than before I left, and student sentiments are clear. We want enhanced macro education, and we’re determined to work for it. The development and growth of MSWSN provides an opportunity to facilitate and advocate for the advancement of macro practice. Increased advocacy has the ability to influence schools to produce more and better-skilled macro practitioners which will enhance policy initiative to improve communities.

Technology and Social Media’s Role In Government

As social media gradually integrates with society, people are now spending their time socializing online. Young and old are depending on online posts for news on current events and the latest trends.

usdiplomatsm01Social media is redefining how people connect, absorb information, and influencing the issues of our day. This is how current social media platforms are becoming a factor for change in the society. For instance, social media sites such as Facebook and Google+ have become a means for social interaction. In addition, improvements in Internet-reliant communication like voice over IP are making its way to produce quality communication mediums. People can just call each other, regardless of the distance and time, to pass on relevant information.

If normal and everyday people rely on social media, then would it be possible that the US government can also take advantage of the social media? This means that these technologies are used to spread or  help shape public opinions and discussions. It could also mean that they are being used to provide the US government a better method of communication amongst its different branches and institutions. So, it is important to discuss how these technologies affect US diplomacy.

Voice over Internet Protocolvoip01

A good example of improved means of communication is the VoIP service offered by the Diplomatic Telecommunications Service Program Office (DTPSO). This is necessary since it guarantees secure communications. This particular attribute is very useful for American diplomatic posts abroad due to the communications between the State Department and the various diplomatic posts containing sensitive data. These data are vital to the protection of US citizens and its government.

In addition, this type of communication is also advantageous for US diplomacy because data can be sent and received quickly. In the present time, political situations could change with a single message.  VoIP provides US officials another option for quick and reliable communication with local and foreign correspondents so they could be updated from time to time about political developments around the world.

Social networking sites

Social networking is also a great way to be informed at present. With the prevalence of sites with millions (even a billion) registered users, it’s really an effective way of knowing what’s happening in the social networkingsociety, locally and globally. The State Department uses these social networks to shape public opinion on various US Foreign Policy issues. It gives the State Department a direct access to the public opinion and vice versa. A great example of this method is the “Visa Hour.” This is a program that is being initiated by the US Embassy in Manila, Philippines. In this program, the US Consul General answers questions sent by the public. The questions are sent by the concerned individuals by tweeting and attaching #TheVisaHour hashtag. The US Consul General will then answer the questions by video.

The Arab Spring was another instance where in the United States utilized the social media to pursue its interest. During the Arab Spring, authorities decided to crack down all social networking sites. This is because they thought that these sites were being used by the opposition to gather support against the regimes. As the event developed, Twitter announced that it was going to have its scheduled maintenance. This presented a problem since the protesters would lose an avenue to voice their grievances in the international community. With this, the US State Department requested that Twitter postpone its maintenance in order to allow the opposition to continue providing updates regarding the Arab Spring. This helped the United States gather information from the public to bring down an inefficient government and set in place a good government to attain peace.

Do you think social media is a game changer?

Government Shutdown Is Over But What Does It Mean

After 16 days of a government shutdown, the House finally allowed a vote which resulted in the passage of bi-partisan bill to reopen the government and avoid default. The 285 votes that decided to reopen the government was comprised of a unified democratic block and several moderate Republicans. However, the 144 votes to keep the government closed and not raise the debt limit were all cast by Tea party Republicans.

Since the government shutdown begin, Democrats and Senate Republicans have openly advocated for the suspension the Haster Rule which requires the “majority of the majority support” before a bill can be brought to the floor for an up or down vote. However, Speaker Boehner has refused to suspend the rule for 16 days stating there were not enough votes to pass a clean continuing resolutions to reopen the government and raise the debt limit. What was the purpose of keeping the government shutdown for 16 days, furloughed workers, and denying needed services to vulnerable populations? What did House Republicans get from shutting down the government other than an opportunity to do it again in another 90 days?  Not only could Speaker Boehner have ended this crisis weeks ago, he could have possibly prevented a government shutdown all together by allowing a vote on a clean resolution or on a budget that has already been passed by the Senate.

According to statement released by Speaker Boehner on Wednesday hours before the default deadline, he stated:

“Blocking the bipartisan agreement reached today by the members of the Senate will not be a tactic for us. In addition to the risk of default, doing so would open the door for the Democratic majority in Washington to raise taxes again on the American people and undo the spending caps in the 2011 Budget Control Act without replacing them with better spending cuts,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in statement Wednesday afternoon. “Our drive to stop the train wreck that is the president’s health care law will continue. We will rely on aggressive oversight that highlights the law’s massive flaws and smart, targeted strikes that split the legislative coalition the president has relied upon to force his health care law on the American people.”  Read Full

In the deal to reopen the government, the agreed upon terms will fund the government until January 15th 2014 and extend the debt ceiling until February 7, 2014. Republicans also added a provision to be instituted into Obamacare which would require income verification prior to receiving a federally subsidized health care plan. President Obama gave a speech to address reopening the government as well as reestablishing the trust of the American People. Prior to leaving the briefing room, a reporter shouted a question at President Obama asking if we will be back at another government shutdown in 90 days. His answer was simply, “No”.

View the President Speech below:


Government Shutdown: Would You Get Fired For Shutting Down Your Job

Yesterday, President Obama gave a speech on the continuing dilemma of the government shutdown which has been in effect since midnight October 1st, and he asked the question, ” What would happen if you decided to shut down your job while you develop a list of demands to be met”? Before, I give the President’s answer, lets look at the past to see if  any such occurrence have happened and what was the outcome.

In November 2012,  Hostess Brands announced that they were selling their company to the highest bidder as a result of a strike by union workers. Hostess fired 18,500 employees because less than 5,000 employees went on strike. According to CNN Money, the company stated:

“We deeply regret the necessity of today’s decision, but we do not have the financial resources to weather an extended nationwide strike,” said CEO Gregory Rayburn in a statement.

Hostess will move to sell its assets to the highest bidder. That could mean new life for some of its most popular products, which could be scooped up at auction and attached to products from other companies.”

Teamsters and unionize workers were blamed for causing the shutdown of a company who products lives in the childhood memories of so many. What could their demands have possible been to cause a company shutdown? According to the president of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM), Frank Hurt said:

BCTGM says the company has ceased making contractually obligated payments to the Hostess workers’ pensions since July 2011 and has pocketed approximately $160 million—money earned by and owed to its dedicated workforce.

Hostess Brands is in bankruptcy for the second time in eight years. Since the first bankruptcy in 2004, BCTGM members across the country have taken dramatic wage and benefit concessions and watched as 21 Hostess plants were shut down and thousands of jobs were lost. At the time of the first bankruptcy, Hostess workers were assured by management that money saved via concessions and plant closings would help make the company stronger, more vibrant and more competitive. Read more

The President’s short answer to the his question is “You will get Fired”!  Take a look at this three-minute video of President Obama’s assessment of the government shutdown by House Republicans:


Currently, House Republicans are on a network messaging frenzy about how the White House and Democrats are not compromising or willing to negotiate with them. Originally, the shutdown was over defunding or delaying implementation of the Affordable Care Act which went into the full implementation phase also on October 1st.

Republican talking points since 2009 when Affordable Care Act was still a bill made claims that Obamacare would cause death panels, increase insurance premiums, and health care cost.  A 2013 article from Forbes Magazine tells a different story of how the enactment of Obamacare has driven down cost the last four years in a row.

Douglas Elmendorf, Director of the CBO, noted that while much of the savings are the result of a loss of wealth due to the recession. But, for the first time, Elmendorf was willing to say that a ‘significant part’ of the savings are the result of structural change in how healthcare is now being delivered.

While the new data suggests that some of the changes in how providers are paid for delivering healthcare began—and were having a positive impact—prior to passage of Obamacare, the ACA codifies these changes in payment procedures for physicians and hospitals, taking what now appears to be programs that are slowing the growth in costs and applying them to all providers throughout the nation. Read Full Article

Now, House Republicans are stating the other side is not willing to sit down and negotiate even more cuts to entitlement programs and government spending in addition to cuts already put in place by sequestration. Republicans have successfully eliminated people from talking about the strain caused by sequestration cuts. Additionally, they have gotten Democrats to accept and willing to sign a continuing resolution with current sequestration cuts as part of the deal. The effects of sequestration cuts have not yet been fully realized which will have devastating effects of their own in the upcoming months without any additional cuts being made. According to the LATimes:

As we reported in August, sequestration will pare as much as 1.2% off gross domestic product — after inflation — through this year and next, according to the Congressional Budget Office.  It will cost as many as 1.6 million jobs over that time frame, the CBO says.

Just as the government shutdown leaves congressional pay and benefits intact, so does the sequester. The damage is all done at the opposite end of the economic scale. Thousands of low-income residents of public housing will be thrown out of their homes. Public housing authorities that managed to stave off evictions this year say they will be out of options next year, when the cuts go deeper.

Tens of thousands of 3- and 4-year-olds will be barred from Head Start, perpetuating the vicious cycle of poverty and poor educational attainment faced by those families. Unemployment benefits will continue to be cut by an average of 15% nationwide. And of course job growth will be worse because of the sequester. That’s a great one-two punch Congress has landed on the jobless. Yet the best we can hope for is that the sequester continues, and doesn’t get worse.  Read Full Article

I have heard arguments that both Democrats and Republicans are responsible for the government shutdown, and I completely disagree. You can’t negotiate with people who put their self-interest over the needs of the majority. The decisions and demands being made by House Republicans and their leadership is irresponsible. Not only will it cost economic hardship for many children and families, some people will lose their lives as a result.

Also on yesterday, two United States Capital Police were hurt protecting tourists who were visiting our Capital. They left their families and came to work on furlough not knowing whether they would eventually get paid or not. They have the same worries as everyone else like mortgages, food, student loans, and taking care of their children. According to sources, a woman suffering from postpartum depression went on a tear in our nation’s capital with her one year old child. To read more on this developing story, view this link.

What else do Republicans want in order to end this insanity?

Jindal Says Wendy Davis Bid for Texas Governor Will End in Defeat

If you are not familiar with who Wendy Davis is, you should be! Wendy Davis was a single mom on government assistance who worked her way from a trailer park to a Harvard Law School degree, but she didn’t stop there. Social Work Helper did a story on Wendy Davis earlier this year for her heroic efforts to stand for women’s reproductive rights.

Wendy DavisWendy Davis, a state Senator representing Texas’ 10th district, made national news for her 11 hour filibuster of the Republican backed restrictive reproductive health bill that the Texas legislature’s leadership was attempting to railroad through the state senate. The bill Wendy said would have a “devastating impact” by enacting a 20 week abortion ban, and effectively closing almost all of the health clinics that provide abortive services, among other vital health services for women, across the state.  Read Full Article

Wendy Davis made her announcement at the high school where she received her education, and she stated:

“We love Texas not only for how good it is, but for how great we know it can be,” she said. “We want every child, no matter where they start in Texas, to receive a world-class education, an education that can take them anywhere they want to go.”

In my opinion, Wendy Davis represents the epitome of the American Dream, and the hope we have for our children to triumph under difficult circumstances. In the history of Texas Governors, only two women have been elected to hold high office. The last to achieve this accomplishment was Ann Richards the mother of the current President of Planned Parenthood, Cecil Richards. If there is a slim chance for a third female governor, Wendy Davis is the right choice.

Bobby Jindal, Republican Governor from Louisiana and Chair of the Republican Governor’s Association, stated that Wendy Davis will be good for fundraising, but she does not stand a chance of winning against Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott. This statement came in the wake of yesterday’s announcement by Wendy Davis to run for Governor of the Lone Star State.


DOJ Sues North Carolina Over New Voter ID Laws

Yesterday, the United States Department of Justice filed suit against the State of North Carolina to contest the passage of the most restrictive voter id laws in country. Prior to the Republican led legislature gaining control, North Carolina was a leader in the country for voter participation which many believe is no longer the case. North Carolina was the only battleground state during the 2012 Presidential Election season to veto and not institute voter id laws.

This suit comes on the heels of a similar suit filed against Texas in its efforts to implement strict voter id laws in the Lone Star State. To counterbalance the law, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) located in Durham North Carolina, is in the process of urging potential voters to register prior to the October 11, 2013 deadline.  In the wake of the new law, same day registration was eliminated. SCSJ is requesting support in their effort to help create awareness and knowledge of the deadline in order to register as many people as possible. If you are interested in helping spread the message of the voter registration deadline, visit SCSJ’s messaging link.

According to MSNBC News:

The law is perhaps the nation’s strictest. In addition to requiring voters to show a limited range of state-issued IDs, it also cuts back on early voting and ends same-day voter registration, among other provisions. All of those provisions disproportionately affect racial minorities, studies show. Rick Hasen, a law professor at UC Irvine and a prominent expert on voting, has called the law “a laundry list of ways to make it harder for people to vote.”

Holder called the cutbacks to early voting “especially troubling,” noting that in the last two presidential elections, 70% of minority voters took advantage of early voting.

The measure was pushed by Republican lawmakers who control the state’s legislature, and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican. An August poll found that just 39% of North Carolinians support their state’s law, with 50% opposed. Along with a slew of other conservative measures enacted by the Republican government, it helped spark an energetic progressive opposition movement that since the summer has held demonstrations across the state.

Leaders of the movement, including Rev. William Barber III, the president of the state’s NAACP chapter, applauded the lawsuit Monday, as did North Carolina Democrats. Read Full Article

[gview file=”https://swhelper.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/172179893-20130930-DOJ-v-NC-Complaint.pdf”]

Rev. Barber is the leader of the Moral Monday protest and the ongoing fight to protect civil rights and the quality of life for North Carolinians. If you are interested in his reaction to the suit brought by the US Attorney General, Eric Holder, view the video below:

Cory Booker Runs for Senate on Criminal Justice Reform Platform

By Meredith McMonigle, Macro Social Work Intern, SJSC

UrbanJusticeEvent2013-2In August 2013, Cory Booker, candidate for the United States Senate from New Jersey and the presumptive winner in a state that has not elected a Republican to the Senate in decades, made the bold announcement to run on a criminal justice reform platform. In an obvious signal that he is spending his considerable political capital on what up to now has been a losing issue, Booker released a 16-page document outlining his plan which is a laundry list of policy recommendations hitting on every phase of the justice continuum.

As mayor of Newark, he made reforming the justice system a priority by creating the Office of Reentry at City Hall which is one of a few in the country. Partnering with the conservative Manhattan Institute, the program works with hundreds of returning inmates each year to find employment. Community partnerships allow the office to offer the wrap around services needed for successful reentry such as housing and legal services to circumvent  the collateral consequences of having a criminal record.

Booker pulls no stops in the report, and he sounds off on all the familiar complaints on both the left and the right about our broken system. On efficiency he states:

“We waste massive amounts of money on strategies that make our communities less, not more, safe. “ On the impact of mass incarceration on families and communities—“Not only do they lose their incarcerated parent’s income and other direct support, but innocent children who have one or both of their parents in prison also suffer trauma, social stigma, and destruction of their familial relationships.” And on racial disparities—“Today, 1 in every 15 black males is in prison or jail, compared to 1 in 106 white males.”

Under six broad categories including modernizing incarceration and investing in re-reentry, Booker offers the kinds of solutions we at SCSJ have been advocating for years. Through our work on the Ban the Box campaign in Durham, we have reduced the collateral consequences Booker highlights in his report. Applicants for county jobs in Durham will no longer confront the criminal records question at the front end of the application process. In our effort to document racial disparities locally and across the state of North Carolina, we have helped to increase the public’s understanding of the fundamental issues of fairness and justice in the system.

To anyone that cares about the fact that we as a nation house 25% of the world’s prisoners, this is exciting news. Booker brings the kind of star power and charisma not seen in politics since another African American burst onto the scene with a run for the Senate from Illinois. But the real question is, can Booker deliver? Jim Webb left the Senate recently, failing to find traction for a similar reform effort. All he was asking for was a Commission to study the issue.

Of the Republicans that blocked the bill by a 57-43 vote, Webb said:

“Their inflammatory arguments defy reasonable explanation and were contradicted by the plain language of our legislation. To suggest, for example, that the non-binding recommendations of a bipartisan commission threaten the Constitution is absurd.”

However on rare occasions, winds can change directions quickly in Washington, D.C.  Booker entered the Senate race on the heels of Attorney General Holder’s speech calling for reform of drug sentencing laws. “It’s clear,” Holder said, “that too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason. The speech was roundly praised with little blowback from the right.

According to the National Review by conservative writer Micheal Barone:

“There is something discordant about mandatory five-year terms for marijuana possession when voters in Colorado and Washington State have legalized the drug, and medical-marijuana laws elsewhere have made it easily available.

Moral issues are raised as well. We have a duty to prevent the rapes that too often occur in prisons and a duty to care about the plight of prisoners’ children.

Americans still favor capital punishment, with 63 percent support in 2012, but several states have abolished it recently and executions in most states are rare. Perhaps more important, many states, Republican as well as Democratic, are scaling back mandatory minimum sentences and releasing prisoners earlier than previously. Read Full Article

The special election to fill Senator Frank Lautenberg’s seat is on October 16, 2013. We will find out soon enough if Cory Booker can turn his political superpowers (for which he has been both mocked and praised) on the world’s biggest jailer.

Photo Courtesy of Triplets in Tribeca

The Importance of Social Work and Politics: A Social Worker’s Call to Arms

A protester holds a sign at San Francisco International Airport during a demonstration to denounce President Donald Trump’s executive order that bars citizens of seven predominantly Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017, in San Francisco.

The social work profession is a diverse and vast profession whose mission is to improve outcomes and the quality of life for vulnerable populations. To put it another way, social workers are trying to help America find its dream again, and this dream crosses party lines. However, we are having difficulty seeing our common goal because we are so focused on the differences between us. What happened to “The American Dream” and how can it be part of our future again?

We have forgotten somehow the importance of social work in the political arena. Some may ask, “How can the social work profession help our society and improve the lives of  citizens?” The social work profession is the foundation that must be restored to help empower society to find its dream again and make it a reality.

Age 0-6 is the most important and formative years in a child life, and social work is the profession that creates programs to help aid families and protect children from scars that may affect them for the rest of their life. If a child is denied needed resources such as food, shelter, developmental education, and ability to live free from abuse, this child’s chances of benefiting from the best public or private education is diminished. ~ Deona Hooper, MSW

As social workers, we can be a great force for this kind of growth in our society, but we must be the Superpac for the poor and vulnerable populations. Too many social workers are “fighting the good fight” alone in their agencies and private practice. Although we work on the individual level, we must also” be a united front” as a profession politically and in our community.

We cannot be this force if we do not become more united and take a leadership role in society. Too many social workers have forgotten their social justice roots and are too caught up in their private practice or agency to reach out. As a result, social work as a profession has become almost invisible. We are not taken seriously by other professions and not really recognized politically either.

The voice and face of social work needs to be heard and seen by our government, by our society and by ourselves. Many times, there is a disconnect between social work values, legislation and the agencies we work in. We must unite as a profession and advocate for better work conditions, more efficient systems for client care, and be the voice for the populations we serve.

We are not represented properly in our society because we have remained silent, and being active in our profession and community can change this. We are the face, we are the voice, and we are the fire of our profession.

I call to you …don’t let your fire burn out. We cannot restore hope in society if we cannot restore it in ourselves.

Global Analysis of Health and Social Determinants with Dr. Dennis Raphael


If providing health care and a social safety net for citizens were an Olympic event, the United States would be in a dead heat for last among developed nations. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Dennis Raphael a professor at York University in Toronto Canada. Dr. Raphael has done extensive study and research on social systems and health disparities on a global scale. I reached out to Dr. Raphael specifically for his international perspective and global research analysis because I was interested to see how the United States compared to other developed nations. It appears that my suspicions are worst than I had imagined.

Dr. Raphael goes in great detail and provides a host of resources for anyone who may be researching poverty and health care disparities. We have all heard the Liberal and Conservative view points for or against Obamacare, but what does the rest of the world see when viewing the normal course of business and politics in America?

As Americans, we are always ranking things in order to assign value, worth, and level of importance. One of the biggest revelations for me from this interview was seeing how the United States poverty rates compared to other countries. It’s astonishing! Here is what Dr. Raphael had to say:

SWH: Could you tell SWH readers about your background and your work on poverty and health care inequalities?

DennisRaphaelHead2DR: I am a professor of health policy and management at York University in Toronto Canada. I was originally trained in child development and educational psychology and have come to have an interest in health policy as it became apparent that the health and well-being of children and families was tightly related to the public policies that are implemented within a society. These public policies affect the health of citizens through what have come to be known as the social determinants of health. These public policies shape social determinants of health such as income and income distribution, employment and working conditions, food security, housing, and the availability of health and social services.

My work and those of others have also demonstrated that these social determinants of health have a much stronger impact on health than does the usual villains of physical inactivity, excess weight, excessive alcohol use, and even tobacco use. These effects are especially great for those living in poverty.

It is very convenient for governments and governmental authorities to blame individuals for their own health shortcomings by pointing to these so-called lifestyle factors rather than the public policies that have much importance in shaping health. My recent work has focused on differences among nations in these public policies and the social determinants of health such as the USA, Canada, and other wealthy developed countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

SWH: How does the United States Model for Health Care and its social safety net compare to Canada and other developed nations?

DR: What has become apparent and is now well accepted in the literature is that the quality and distribution of the social determinants of health in nations such as United States and Canada lag well behind those seen in other wealthy developed countries. The United States is an especially great outlier as it is the only developed nation that does not provide citizens with healthcare as a matter of right. It also has the most unequal distribution of the social determinants of health and, not surprisingly, has the worst population health profile among all wealthy developed nations with the exception of Turkey and Mexico. US poverty rates are the highest outside of Mexico and Turkey.

I’ve also come to the conclusion that the reason for this has much to do with the dominant political ideologies of those who govern these nations. As unbelievable as it may seem for those of us who live in the United States and Canada, most developed nations are led by leaders who take an active interest in developing public policy that promotes the health and well-being of citizens. Most wealthy developed nations provide universal affordable childcare to all members of society, provide workers with legislative guarantees that provide some semblance of job security but also the availability of job training and if unemployment occurs, payments that allow them to live a life with dignity. For the last 20 years, the United States has been an exceptional outlier in providing people with virtually none of these social determinants of health, and the United States is the only nation that does not provide people with guaranteed vacation time, guaranteed supported maternity leave, and of course health care.

Unfortunately for us living in Canada, Canadian leaders have chosen to emulate the American model of public policy over the last two decades rather than the more sophisticated and helpful approaches adopted among European nations. The result is that Canada’s population health profile and the quality and distribution of the social determinants of health is increasingly beginning to look like that of the United States, with the accompanying expected declines in quality of life and overall health of the population. The primary factor that has become apparent is the nations that take seriously the provision of quality social determinants of health to its population are governed by political parties that are identified in the literature as being either Social Democratic or Conservative.

Despite what many people think, the so-called conservative parties of North America are not really conservative as much as “liberal”. This applies to both the Democratic and Republican parties in the USA. Despite the meaning of the word “liberal” in North America which many people think as meaning progressive, the term liberal in political science and political economy actually refers to a form of governance where governments take little if any interest in providing the population with the means of maintaining and promoting health. I’ve written extensively about the distinction between Social Democratic, Conservative, and Liberal welfare states, and I urge readers to take a look at some of these works. In essence, the approach governments have taken in the United States and Canada towards providing the means of their population to maintain health are incredibly undeveloped as compared to the nations of Europe.

SWH: Can you provide a snapshot of major social safety net programs put in place by the Canadian government to address income disparities and to assist vulnerable populations within your country?

DR: The most apparent difference between Canada and the United States in terms of social safety net programs is that in Canada every Canadian is entitled to the provision of healthcare as a matter of right. While this may seem exceptional to Americans, this is also the practice in every other wealthy developed nation that belongs to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. For people like me and others who work in health, it is almost unbelievable that the United States does not provide health care to citizens as a matter of human rights. It should not be surprising that this lack of any kind of coordinated system in the United States leads to the United States having the most expensive and apparently least effective health care system among nations in the developed world. The US also has exceptionally high poverty rates which are particularly ironic considering its overall wealth.

Canada provides other aspects of the social safety net that are not available to Americans. In Canada the so-called RAND formula stipulates that once a union is certified in the workplace, all employees must belong to that union. In the United States the so-called “right to work laws” actually weaken unions and the economic and social security Americans obtain and as a result, Americans have some of the lowest wages among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the highest poverty rates among virtually all wealthy developed nations. Only 7% of Americans belong to unions and as a result their job security and working conditions, as well as their wages, are among the lowest of those working in wealthy developed nations.

In contrast, in the Scandinavian nations over 80% of people belong to unions and an even greater proportion of them work under collective agreements. Even in the conservative nations of Continental Europe, when unions themselves have lower membership than in Scandinavia, virtually all workers are covered by collective agreements. As a result, they experience greater job security, more employment and training opportunities, and generally greater security which translates into better health, and their poverty rates are the lowest among wealthy developed nations.

 In Canada, 31% of workers belong to a union and while this figure is low in comparison to other nations, it is of course rather high as compared the United States.

Other social safety net programs that Canadians have access to are guaranteed maternity leave that is supported through the employment insurance system. Women who have been employed are entitled to close to 60% of their average salary during the 12 months that constitutes maternity leave in Canada. In the United States there are no such provisions. Even then, provisions are stronger in many European countries where women are entitled to close to 100% of their average salary during their maternity leave. And even then there are nations in Europe when men are entitled to paid maternity leave.

SWH: Over the course of your work, have you done any comparisons of the Canadian and USA  social security systems to those of other industrialized nations, and what were your findings?

DR: I have written numerous articles that have compared the differing situations between the United States, Canada and other members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Two of these articles recently appeared in the journal Health Promotion International and these titles are appended at the end of this interview. In addition, I recently published a book entitled Tackling Health Inequalities: Lessons from International Experiences. This book consists of a number of case studies of differing wealthy developed nations and includes a chapter on the United States in addition to ones on the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. I urge readers to take a look at these documents and to consider the United States situation in relation to that seen in other wealthy developed nations.

To summarize the findings succinctly, United States is an incredible outlier in its approach to providing citizens with the conditions necessary for health. Canada does somewhat better and for many Canadians the comparison to United States gives cause for much satisfaction. However, when the Canadian situation is compared to the situation in other wealthy developed nations Canadians have much less to be happy about and there are many individuals, groups, and professional associations that are trying to move the public policy picture in Canada to that of these other wealthy developed nations and away from the United States model.

SWH: In your opinion, how has austerity measures implemented by various governments in developed nations contributed to or helped alleviate health inequalities of its citizens?

DR: In a nutshell, the austerity measures implemented by developed nations have served to contribute to the health inequalities that are apparent among the citizens. I direct your readers’ attention to three books in particular: To Live and Die in America, Class, Power, Health and Health Care by Robert Chernomas and Ian Hudson (2013), Social Murder and Other Shortcomings of Conservative Economics by Robert Chernomas and Ian Hudson (2007), and The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills: Recessions, Budget Battles, and the Politics of Life and Death by David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu (2013).

SWH: Do you have any current projects and/or publications that you are working on or recently released, and how does someone find more of your research?

DR: In addition to my recent book Tackling Health Inequalities: Lessons from International Experiences that was published in 2012, I have written numerous articles that document how public policy is related to the health and quality of life of citizens in wealthy developed nations such as United States and Canada. More recently I’ve been examining how differing ways of thinking about health among public health departments lead to different directions in approaching their mandate. I’ve also written extensively about the mainstream media and how these media think about health and means of promoting public education that can lead citizens to think differently about health and become more involved in the public policy process in order to create the conditions necessary for health. People can see some of these recent articles by going to this link, and  I’ve also produced a primer that should be of interest to all readers entitled Social Determinants of Health: The Canadian Facts. This can be obtained online at http://thecanadianfacts.org.

Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to this ongoing discussion that is of such importance for those of us living in North America.

Relevant Readings:

Raphael, D. (2012). Tackling Health inequalities: Lessons from International Experiences. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press.

Bryant. T., Raphael, D., and Rioux, M. (2010). Staying Alive: Critical Perspectives on Health, Illness and Health care, 2nd edition. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press.

Raphael, D. (2013). The political economy of health promotion: Part 1, national commitments to provision of the prerequisites of health. Health Promotion International, 28, 95-111.

Raphael, D. (2013). The political economy of health promotion: Part 2, national provision of the prerequisites of health. Health Promotion International, 28, 112-132.

Raphael, D. (2011). Mainstream media and the social determinants of health in Canada: Is it time to call it a day? Health Promotion International, 26, (2), 220-229.

Photo Credit: Picture of Family Courtesy of  www.mlive.com

How Businesses Are Taking Advantage of Teachers Without Jobs

I recently came across a craigslist ad that was filed under “education/teaching” and had the title “Part-time Help”.  I opened the link and the full ad read, “Teachers make the best servers. Now hiring for part-time waitstaff….”. Our skillful educators are being targeted for unskilled labor jobs.

Can't Afford Poster Board, I am a Teacher
A sign from one of the many teachers who rallied in Raleigh for Moral Monday- expressing frustration over low pay and continued cuts.

It should not really come as a surprise considering all the cuts to public education made by the NC legislature this session, and I immediately felt outraged. The North Carolina education changes include ending tenure, removing restrictions on class size, eliminating several teaching and teaching assistant jobs, and ending a 10% pay increase for teachers with Master’s degrees.

Ten years ago, North Carolina ranked 29th in teacher salary. The projection for the upcoming year will rank North Carolina’s teacher pay at 48th in the nation. It saddens me to live in a society where teachers are expected to have low-incomes and the idea of a supplemental job is commonplace.  However, seeing teachers rally at Moral Monday protests gives me hope.

Sadly, teachers are not the only ones feeling financial pressure.  Educated professionals across the board are suffering economically.  In May 2012, Huffington Post reported on the triple increase in the number of PhD’s who received food stamps between 2007 and 2010.

It seems the face of poverty is looking more and more educated. Degrees can now symbolize immense amounts of debt and unemployment instead of a ticket to wealth or even a steady job. Previous generations believed a high school diploma was a ticket to employment.

My peers and I grew up believing that an undergraduate degree guaranteed a good job which later changed to a Master’s degree guaranteeing a job.  Now, even a PhD’s is not enough to keep you off food stamps.

Looking forward, our state and our students face serious challenges.  When we treat teachers poorly, students suffer.  Our children will get their education within a public school system that devalues teachers and is underfunded which is a scary thought.  If our children learn that there is no advantage to seeking education, then we are breeding hopelessness in them.  After all, why bother with academics if it won’t even get you a decent paying job?

Moral Monday Showdown is Just Getting Started

by Deona Hooper, MSW

IMG_0429During the 2012 election, I remember riding in my middle class neighborhood seeing all the Mitt Romney for President and Pat McCrory for Governor signs. It was believed that Republicans would make a sweep in the North Carolina State election, and they did. It was clear to me then that many Republicans continue to vote against their own interest. However, the con game that Republicans have played on their middle class and poor constituents has served as the catalyst and growth for Moral Monday Protests.

In last year’s Presidential election, North Carolina was the only battleground state that did not implement voter id laws, but it was not from the lack of trying. Mitt Romney won North Carolina in a slim 51 to 49 percent split over President Obama. Many North Carolinians believe these numbers were reflective of a southern state making progressive movement towards equality and fairness. However, the North Carolina Republicans who came into power has proved this is not the case.

The 51 percent of North Carolinians, who helped vote them into power under the guise of jobs and smaller government, are now regretting their decision. The super majority Republican led legislature is no longer instituting policies that only affect welfare recipients and the impoverished. They have done an outstanding job at offending everyone who fall outside the top two percent tax bracket.

Republican blogger in the Raleigh News and Observer writes:

There was a time when I would have groaned with disgust at the coverage of the tumultuous Moral Monday protests. As a conservative activist and blogger (and registered Republican), my feet remain firmly planted on the right, but I have become surprisingly sympathetic to the passionate protesters who gather every week in Raleigh.

What changed? Last October I lost my job of 19 years and officially became a deadbeat. Now, Gov. Pat McCrory has never used that word officially to my knowledge, but he did remark, while campaigning in 2012, that filing for unemployment is “too easy.” Read Full Article by David Bozeman

Mr. Bozeman’s sense of compassion for Moral Monday Protest seemed to develop after GOP policies began to affect him and his ability to collect unemployment. North Carolina is the first and only state to disqualify itself from receiving federal unemployment benefit funds. This moved cause over 71,000 people to instantly lose benefits effective June 30, 2013 while those who remained eligible for benefits experienced drastic cuts to their weekly payout. Amazingly, North Carolina government decided to make these changes while having the fifth highest unemployment rate in the country.

In their first six months of power, Republicans have rolled North Carolina’s progress back decades with repealed and  new right wing laws relating to voting, education, fracking, taxes, abortion, and civil rights to name a few. On July 22, 2013, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and regular contributor to Social Work Helper was one of the speakers at yesterday’s rally.

“The Southern Coalition for Social Justice believes that recent state redistricting laws – as well as the General Assembly’s recent proposals to restrict the right to vote — violate both the State and U.S. Constitution. We will fight these laws all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary. But at the end of the day it is individuals like you, standing together for your rights, that create change.” –Anita Earls, Executive Director, Southern Coalition for Social Justice to Moral Monday protesters

From my observation at the rally, Moral Mondays are waking people up from the backroom deals traditionally made by our elected officials which have in the past remained unnoticed. I saw people from all different backgrounds both young and old coming together to fight injustice. Churches were protesting along side organizations such as Durham People’s Alliance, NARAL Pro-Choice NC, and Equality NC. It appears that everyone is beginning to understand that it is going to take a collective effort to prevent our State from being ruined and ruled by the few.

Republican cuts to education is creating awareness on the political process to a new generation of voters. What appears to be insanity from the right is actually assisting baby boomers from the Civil Rights Era in teaching activism to today’s generation. Also while at the protest, I had the opportunity to talk with a group of students from Durham, North Carolina, and this is what they had to say:

Durham NC Student U (L to R) Jalan Bowling, Tabitha Ruffin, LaTosha Ruffin, Tiffany Ruffin, Jamaire Bowling, Ben Coreas
Durham NC Student U (L to R) Jalan Bowling, Tabitha Ruffin, LaTosha Ruffin, Tiffany Ruffin, Jamaire Bowling, Ben Coreas

This was our first Moral Monday that we attended and we honestly didn’t know what to expect. From this inspirational experience, we realized that we all have different beliefs, but at the end of the day,we stand up for what’s right. We learned that everyone has their own opinion (such as protesting against racial justice, equal rights, education, voting and many others) and that they have the right to express what they feel. We saw that they will do whatever it takes to stand up or sit down for what they believe in. We really enjoyed this protest and we all found it very inspirational. We know that when we feel that something isn’t right, we know that we need to stand up and say what we believe. NO MATTER WHAT others who don’t agree say!  We ARE Student U!  ~Tosha Ruffin

When people ask me if the Republicans are winning, I simply say regression is necessary. We have benefited from an era of prosperity as a result of those who died to get the rights we take for granted. There is more concentrated wealth and resources within minority communities than when our ancestors fought for equal rights. We are by no means powerless in achieving desired outcomes. However, we must have collective collaboration in order to achieve collective impact.

At this present time, North Carolina is trying to privatize education, make it easier to buy a gun than vote, destroy our environment with deregulation and fracking, and the list goes on.  However, Moral Monday Protesters have demonstrated they are in this for the long haul and not just to the end of this legislative session. The current total of Moral Monday arrests are now over 900 with over 70 protesters arrested yesterday.

I had the opportunity to see Reverend Barber address the people, and my hope is that more leaders in our churches especial in minorities communities begin to stand with him. As Rev. Barber says: We Fight! We Fight! We Fight!


Photo Credit: Deona Hooper

Immigration Bill Passes the Senate Vote, What’s Next?

by Amanda Huber MSW, LCSWA

Within days of each other, The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was repealed, the Filibuster in Texas stopped an anti-abortion bill, and the Supreme Court refused to rule on Prop 8. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 endured a devastating blow with the Supreme Court striking down section 4 requiring states with historical discrimination practices to seek pre-clearance before modifying voting laws, and Senate Bill (S. 744) addressing immigration passed the Senate with a vote 68 to 32.

Infographic provided by Quartz
Infographic provided by QuartzWhat does S. 744 : The Immigration Bill Address:

What does S. 744 : The Immigration Bill Address:

Border Security: DHS (Department of Homeland Security) will tighten up on border security and it provides a budget of 6.5 Billion to increase resources and infrastructure, more tax dollars spent  on basic border surveillance.

Immigrant Visas: RPI (Registered Provisional Immigrant) is the status that will be given to immigrants who meet specific legal standards as addressed in S. 744.  The ability to apply for family members who are in the country without updated documentation or  illegal status will be granted a path to citizenship.  This is a costly matter and lower income families are less likely to meet the minimum standards.

Visa Updates: Changes regarding different documents including V(visiting )visas, U (undocumented) visas, RPI (Registered Provisional Immigrant) visas and LPR (Legal Permanent Resident) visas, and the qualifications an individual must face along their journey toward citizenship.

The Dreamers:  Dreamers are childhood arrivals who have advocated for their access to education, drivers licensing and to basic human rights. They are included in this bill and will be allowed a fast track to citizenship.

Access to Benefits: Dependent upon the type of visa received, governmental aid provided to many at-risk populations in programs such as Medicaid, Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) and Social Security may or may not be provided. For example, Registered Provisional Immigrants (RPI) are ineligible. However, RPI status immigrants will be allowed to operate in a the private market system for medical insurance benefits.

Employer Enforcement: E-Verify  and work authorization guidelines. This section of  S. 744 includes worker protections against exploitation. This section gives rights to temporary farm workers (those who hold H-2A visas) who hold  temporary agricultural visas.  In the past, this population has been exploited by large farms that do not want to inform their workers of the rights they have as employees in the United States.

The path to citizenship in some cases will take up to 13 years to accomplish. This comes at a time where Latino voices and Latino storytellers have been able to have a stronger presence in the immigration dialogue. The passage of S. 744 in the Senate was a step toward equality and justice, but it still needs House support in order to become law. The Republican majority House may prevent S. 744 from being voted on without a majority of House members consent. According to Speaker John Boehner, House Republicans have their own immigration bill.

Why Did Rand Paul’s Filibuster Get More Media Attention Than Wendy Davis

Gender Politics, In Politics? NO WAY! Earlier this week, Senator Wendy Davis of Texas stood up for women’s reproductive rights in her 11 hour filibuster to keep the 45 clinics open in Texas SB 5 would have banned abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. She spoke with authority and on such a controversial topic that it would only seem fitting that the 24 hour news networks would have paid Davis more media attention.

Here is an excerpt from Time Magazine:

(Photo by Bob Daemmrich/Corbis)

You might think that this kind of ticking-clock politics drama would be a magnet for cable news. TV news, after all, devoted considerable coverage when GOP Sen. Rand Paul held a rare one-man-speaking filibuster on the floor of the Senate earlier this year. There was a deadline, an explosive social issue, some charged gender politics in the room. “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?” demanded Sen.Leticia Van De Putte with roars from the crowd and rowdy protesters shaking the room with chants of “Let her speak! Let her speak!” Aaron Sorkin, could not have scripted it better, though he may have polished up the dialogue a bit.
Read Full Article

What was it about Rand Paul’s filibuster in the Senate that motioned for such an amplified voice in mainstream media?  Many may remember Rand Paul and his filibuster against John Brennan’s appointment to the CIA. What was it about the filibustering process that made both Senators stop their filibusters? For Rand Paul, it was biological while for Wendy Davis it was a technicality. The longest Filibuster on record is that of Strom Thurmond who was allowed a short recess for a bathroom break in 1977. With this in mind, how does the filibustering process work?

There are a few key rules about filibustering, and the first of which is that the floor must be taken with no sitting or no leaning. Wendy Davis was penalized for this rule because another senator assisted her in adjusting her back brace. The other key rule about filibustering is staying on topic. According to the chamber, she went off topic twice by mentioning the budget for planned parenthood and mentioned a sonogram bill. In Filibustering after a representative has gotten three violations, as Sen. Davis received, she can no longer hold the floor.

These technicalities were not discussed in as great detail in the Rand Paul Filibuster in March of 2013. The standards appear to be different and the media coverage was different.  However, the issue struck a chord with social media advocates and local organizers.

Twitter was tweeting  #standwithwendy

“LET HER SPEAK” the crowd chanted as she left the floor

Her efforts were not in vain! Organizers and protesters chanted for the last 15 minutes and ran out the clock for that final vote.

Advocacy Series: Strategy, Targets, and Tactics…Oh my!


As social workers, we have a duty to make sure our clients are treated with dignity and respect, in addition to providing advocacy and fighting for social justice. Part of our role as advocates and social workers is to evaluate the needs of our “clients” and the policies that may affect them and service delivery.  We must be mindful that the needs of vulnerable populations continue to grow in difficult economic times especially when programs for low-income families are the firs to be cut.

I started the beginning of the advocacy series with an overview of how advocacy influences policy. This article will take you a bit further by giving you strategies, targets and tactics as well as some ideas on how to market your cause.

There are many reasons why some people advocate which include things such as equity in health care, income disparity, education equality, and public awareness. There are several types of people whom make persuasive arguments as advocates which include:

  • Those who share a personal connection with the issue
  • Those who could be impacted by the issue
  • Anyone who wants to make a difference

Strategy – What are you advocating?

If you have decided there is an issue worth fighting for, then you need a strategy for a plan of action. An advocacy strategy typically is an approach aimed at persuading someone in power, usually in government or corporate, to  change action for the public interest.

Without a clear obtainable goal, your advocacy plan will lack purpose. You must first analyze the problem and decide what kind of solution is within your spoke of experience. This is for both short and long term goals. A short-term goal has a more immediate resolution and may be only a one step plan. A long-term goal is one you eventually hope to obtain, and it usually has many factors to address.

If the issue you are advocating is controversial or not supported by the community, you will need a longer time frame to make any affect. Also, you must frame the issue in a way that will gain the most support depending on whom you are targeting at the time. However, you do not want to use a “cookie cutter” approach to all your advocacy efforts.

In addition to analyzing the issue, research the counterpoints to your cause in order to be effective in presenting your issue. You must have knowledge of both sides of the discussion. Remember, if there wasn’t an opposing view, there wouldn’t be a problem to begin with.

Make sure your key points:

  • Are easy to understand
  • Have a clear target
  • Result in meaningful life improvements
  • Instill a sense of power to the powerless

Targets – Who are the key players?

Targets are people who have a stake in the proposed change. Identifying the key players is crucial in determining the potential success of your advocacy efforts as well as knowing how to present information to them.  Determine which of these targets would have an interest to advance or protect your issue as allies. In addition, research those in opposition to your issue, and look at your issue from their perspective.

Possible stakeholders could include:

  • Elected officials
  • Federal, state, and local government
  • Organizations
  • Religious, civic,  public and private
  • Media outlets
  • Television, radio, print, internet
  • Family, friends, co-workers

Tactics- What’s the most creative way to make a point?

So, you have a cause and a plan. Now all you need is to carry it out. Tactics are activities used to influence targets to produce the desired change.  This is when advocacy can be very creative and fun. Tactics can be as simple as requesting a meeting to more creative activities such as a candle light vigil or a flash mob. Some advocacy groups have used innovative tactics such as displaying a life size Chutes and Ladder’s game to promote policy change for youth.

Some examples of tactics include:

  • Face-to-face meetings
  • Appointments with officials
  • Rallies /Demonstrations
  • Advocacy days
  • Emails
  • Blogs
  • Facebook, Twitter & YouTube
  • Phone calls
  • Writing campaigns
  • Letters to the Editor and to officials
  • Petitions
  • Editorials
  • Media coverage
  • Grassroots, door to door campaigns

Building relationships is one of the most important things you can do in your advocacy campaign. Even with your opponents, you want to create a relationship where they welcome the opportunity to speak with you again. Also, follow up with the targets you have spoken too by sending them a thank you letter, email or phone call. Remember to provide a debriefing with allies and other participants to discuss where to go forward. This will also help to establish any new networks that have become supporters.

Stay connected to your supporters you will ensure your cause will grow!

Macro Community Practice: Why It Can’t Be Separated From Politics

What is macro community practice, and what does it have to do with politics? Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I often engage in political discussions with my @swhelpercom Twitter account. Most people outside of social work are often glad to see a social worker engaged in the conversation because these discussions involve Medicare, Social Security, Mental Health, and Welfare programs. They view us as the experts in these areas because we are the implementers and providers within those programs.

Social workers are the largest provider of mental health services in the United States, yet we are not at the table when experts are gathered by the government to reform these various systems. Who is the blame for social workers being absent from the policy making table which will overwhelmingly affect our ability to provide services to the people we serve? Macro community practice by definition is instituting programs and policies to increase the outcomes of the service community. Macro community practice focuses on using program evaluation and evidence based practices to gather essential data to identify areas for improvement.

Unfortunately, many social workers in both the US and abroad do not believe social workers should engage in politics. On several occasions, I have been told by other social workers that it’s inappropriate for me to engage in political conversations or advocate from a political point-of-view because social work is not political or it must be engaged in a nonpartisan way. Social Work is a profession much like teaching and law enforcement in the respect that our jobs are intrinsically linked to government funding.

Our Human Services system is in desperate need of reform, resources, and funding. However, is it reasonable to expect politicians with no human service or social work experience to see these systems as a priority especially without a union to protect our interests?

Recently, I had a brief conversation with a social carer in the United Kingdom (UK) on Twitter, and I responded in 140 characters of course. My main point in the conversation is that legislative policy dictates practice, and we must have advocates in public offices who are sympathetic to the plight of social workers/social carers in order to get system changes that are supportive of social workers.

I don’t know a single social worker who won’t agree that the system is broken and changes are needed to improve the quality of services to clients, work conditions, and pay for social workers. Macro community practice is designed to look at system changes that will impact service delivery at all levels. However, macro community practice is not a concept that should be viewed from the top down rather than the inside out. No matter our specialty or the demographics we serve, micro/direct practice should never be separated from macro practice.

For a macro community practitioner to be effective we must challenge systematic oppression as well as oppressive policy and laws creating barriers and limiting our clients’ ability to improve their outcomes. When can still help one client at a time, but how we vote and who will be put in office will determine the fate of our profession.

Housing in Blue, Homeless in Red


Today public housing continues to exist, but eligibility and aid depends on one’s location. While the federal government has developed nation-wide programs, states and local agencies provide the actual housing to their citizens. A state must follow the federal guidelines but can determine how much aid it receives, and each state can set some of its own guidelines in terms of preferential treatment and eligibility. All this means that one’s state of choice, particularly the choice between a red or blue state, will determine his or her level of aid in terms of public housing.

Before looking at the differences at state level though, let’s cover today’s policies. The basic principles of public housing today have stayed consistent with the policies beginning in the 1960’s when civil rights were first being incorporated. In 1974, Nixon created the Section 8 Rental Assistance Program, which is still very much alive today. The program provides rental certificates for low-income families to use to pay a portion of their rent on privately owned units. This was a change from the past policies because it allowed low-income families to break away from large public housing facilities and instead lease private units. At the time, families were expected to pay 30 percent of their income toward rent and utilities and then HUD, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, would cover the rest as long as it was under the maximum aid level. It seemed that the 1960’s brought positive changes, but in the 1980’s housing programs were dramatically cut. The 1990’s saw a huge increase in the need for homeless shelters due to the lack of public housing. Today, while subsidizing of housing projects has continued to decline, more rent vouchers and Section 8 certificates are being handed out each year.

But how have the changes come about in different states? Massachusetts is viewed as the prime example of a blue state and has one of the best public housing programs in the country. This is generally because Massachusetts applies for and accepts a great deal of federal funding. In addition, the state has low qualifications in terms of who can receive public housing assistance. For example, in order to qualify for the Section 8 Rental Assistance Voucher, one must simply show records of being a good tenant in the past and take in 80% or less than the median income in their community. Statewide, the income limit to qualify as a single person is $45,100 annually.

Texas, on the other hand, is viewed as a strong red state and is not highly prized for its public housing program. In fact, the state accepts much less federal aid and therefore has a much smaller public housing budget than Massachusetts, despite having a population four times the size of MA. Additionally, a single person must take in $33,650 annually or less in Texas to qualify for public housing aid. While the eligibility is calculated based upon the state’s median income; there are large gaps in terms of eligibility between states. In addition, the private sector in Texas has refused to aid low-income families in terms of housing. This means that citizens must rely solely on public sector housing, much of which is in poor condition as, in general, it has not been updated since the 1930s.

While in many eyes the Texas system is flawed, those in opposition to public housing would support Texas over Massachusetts. Many believe that public housing gives people a crutch and allows them to take unearned money. Others argue that public housing should have a time limit so that people have an incentive to work hard and get off the aid. While one can hope that one day public housing programs will no longer be needed, it should be not out of lack of funding or desire, but instead because it is no longer needed.  Until that day though, housing is a basic need that needs to be met regardless of race or income.

While public housing is a federally supported program, it is run by the local public housing authorities. It is up to the PHAs to determine how their public housing system will be run. The federal government applies a base funding to all, but when more funds are available, states can apply for more money. This often means, out of each state’s own choice and differences in opinions about public aid, that blue states will have larger public housing budgets than red states. Therefore, it is clear that a low-income family is much better off living in a blue state.

The right to a quality home should not, however, depend on one’s exact location within the United States. As a social worker, it shall be one’s duty to advocate for adequate housing for all, as shelter is a basic human need. For, as Cohn said, “this country has room for different approaches to policy. It doesn’t have room for different standards of human decency.”


Cohn, J. (2012, October 25). Blue states are from Scandinavia, red states are from Guatemala: a theory

of a divided nation. The New Republic. Retrieved from http://www.newrepublic.com/article/politics/magazine/108185/blue-states-are-scandinavia-red-states-are-guatemala#

HUD. (n.d.). Housing choice vouchers fact sheet. Retrieved from

Mass Resources. (n.d.). Public housing. Retrieved from http://www.massresources.org/public-housing.html

Texas Housing. (n.d.). Public housing in Texas. Retrieved from

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