SWRA Sponsors Ask Obama to Create Commission

With the 111th Congress quickly coming to a close, sponsors of the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young Social Work Reinvestment Act, HR 795/S 686, turned to President Barack Obama in the hopes that he would issue an executive order to establish a key provision of the legislation — a social work reinvestment commission.

“In the wake of Dr. Dorothy Height’s death and as the embodiment of everything she stood for, we respectfully request you to establish by executive fiat, or other mechanisms, the Social Work Reinvestment Commission,” members of Congress said in a letter to the president that was dated Aug. 20.

Height, a civil rights icon and NASW Social Work Pioneer®, passed away in April at age 98.

The letter was signed by Reps. Edolphus “Ed” Towns, D-N.Y.; Barbara Lee, D-Calif.; Steve Cohen, D-Tenn.; Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill.; Rush Holt, D-N.J.; and Ciro Rodriguez, D-Texas; and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C.

NASW has been advocating relentlessly for a federal-level commission capable of carrying out a comprehensive review of workforce challenges facing the social work profession and making recommendations to Congress and the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services on ways to ensure that there are enough social workers to keep up with demand.

“The growing demand for social workers — the needs of returning veterans, displaced and unemployed workers, families in poverty, the elderly, children, incarcerated, the chronically ill and disabled, the mentally ill and other populations are too important to delay the establishment of this commission,” the letter said.

It continued: “With many states and local governments facing budget challenges, the jobs held by social workers and the services associated with the work they do are particularly vulnerable.”

At this story’s deadline, neither the letter’s signatories nor NASW had received a response from the president.

Currently, HR 795 has 88 co-sponsors and S 686 has 14 co-sponsors. Barring any action in the current congressional session, which officially ends Jan. 3, the legislation would have to be reintroduced for consideration in the 112th Congress.

NASW lobbyist Elizabeth Hoffler said prospects are dim for getting a vote on the legislation in the current Congress.

“Everyone in Washington knows when you’re this close to an election, the work of Congress slows down,” she said. “And after the elections we’re looking at a lame duck session during which typically not much gets done. However, we’re very appreciative of the work of the bill’s sponsors in Congress, especially Rep. Towns, who has been a tireless advocate for its passage.”

Hoffler said a course of action will be decided at the next Action Network for Social Work Education and Research, or ANSWER, Coalition meeting on Oct. 4.

Options include attempting to get HR 795 placed on the House suspension calendar — a procedure invoked to expedite passage of uncontroversial legislation.

In related news, Norton introduced legislation to name the National Capital Station Post Office in Washington in Height’s honor. The location houses the Smithsonian National Postal Museum.

The U.S. Department of Labor building is named for Frances Perkins, who was also a social worker and was secretary of the Department of Labor under President Franklin Roosevelt from 1933 to 1945.

“Dr. Height’s immensely impactful life has been recognized with virtually every significant national honor, from the NAACP Spingarn Medal to the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the Congressional Gold Medal,” Norton said at a press conference last month. “It is time to put Dr. Height’s name on a significant building in the nation’s capital. ... Along with official Washington, we will be pleased to have our landmark post office building named for this great American woman.”