Election Yields Uncertainty

Edolphus TownsRep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y.

NASW’s prospects of moving ahead with its legislative agenda are unclear now that Republicans control the House of Representatives.

Even under Democratic control, progress on several fronts — immigration reform, social work safety, student loan forgiveness and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families reauthorization, for example — moved at a glacial pace. With power wrested from the Democrats in the House and seemingly little inclination for compromise, some predict the political machinery in Washington may come to a halt altogether.

That’s not to say NASW won’t press ahead, or that it doesn’t have allies in the new Congress. More than 80 percent of the candidates endorsed by NASW’s political action committee, Political Action for Candidate Election, were elected to serve in the 112th Congress — no small feat, according to Brian Dautch, the NASW senior political action associate who helped PACE Trustees determine which candidates to endorse.

“By doing as well as we did, we can at least say that we have some friends who can help move our policy agenda, even if it’s only in modest ways,” Dautch told NASW News.

Those friends include two senators and five representatives with social work backgrounds, including 14-term Rep. Edolphus “Ed” Towns, D-N.Y., who will serve in the next Congress.

Nevertheless, Dautch had previously expressed concern that many of the gains accomplished in the 111th Congress could be erased if those who favor smaller government and less spending gain control of the federal purse strings.

Republicans, for example, openly call for repealing the recently passed health care reforms. Presumptive House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in a post-election press briefing called the legislation a “monstrosity” and said the new leadership will lay the groundwork to repeal and replace it with what they consider “commonsense reforms.”

However, without control of the Senate and the White House, Republicans will be hard-pressed to repeal the nearly year-old law. But that won’t stop the new party in charge of the House from attempting to withhold the funding needed by government agencies to carry out the reforms, or in the very least slow down their implementation — actions within their purview.

That’s just the start. House Republicans also want to take an ax to funding for federal programs, including Health Resources and Services Administration block grants, pointed out Asua Ofosu, a senior government relations associate for NASW. Ofosu told NASW News that the association’s political strategy for at least the next two years will have to focus on convincing Republicans that their constituents depend on the very services they seek to cut.

“It will be a challenge but I think we can find common ground between Republicans and Democrats on the issues that matter to social workers by presenting them in a way that is compelling,” said Ofosu.

And, what will come of NASW’s top legislative priority, the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act, which had no Republican sponsors in the 111th Congress?

NASW’s Elizabeth Hoffler, manager of the association’s Social Work Reinvestment Initiative, said NASW is firmly committed to passing the reinvestment act into law.

“We recognize that the need for social workers is greater than ever before, and we will work with Congressman Towns and all of our social workers in Congress to reintroduce the bill in the 112th Congress,” Hoffler said.

Jeane Anastas, Richard BarthJeane Anastas, NASW’s president-elect, speaks at a November congressional briefing on the Social Work Reinvestment Act as Richard Barth, University of Maryland School of Social Work dean, listens.

Towns held a Nov. 18 congressional briefing on the legislation. Speakers included NASW President-elect Jeane Anastas, Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark and Joan Levy Zlotnik, director of the NASW Foundation’s Social Work Policy Institute, as well as other representatives from the Action Network for Social Work Education and Research (ANSWER) Coalition.

“This bill is critical to the 640,000 professional social workers in our nation, and, more importantly, to the 10 million clients served by social workers every day in the United States,” Clark said in her opening statement at the briefing. She later added: “We are the safety net for society, and that net has a lot of holes in it right now.”

The national PACE Board of Trustees endorses and contributes financially to candidates running for U.S. House and Senate seats, regardless of their political party affiliation, who support NASW’s policy agenda; state chapter PACE units weigh in on local and state races.

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