NASW Hopeful New Congress Will Address Social Work Goals

— Heidi Sfiligoj, News Staff


The NASW Government Relations/Political Action staff is looking forward to working with the newly-elected Congress and President-elect Barack Obama.

"The final outcome of the election is wonderful for NASW members and for our country," said Judy Walruff, chair of NASW's Political Action for Candidate Election (PACE). "I believe that these results signal that many of the issues and initiatives important to our members and the people we serve will move to the political forefront."

More than 87 percent of the 238 candidates endorsed by NASW-PACE claimed victory. When the NEWS went to press, a few races had yet to be determined, such as the extremely tight Minnesota Senate race between PACE-endorsed candidate Al Franken and Sen. Norm Coleman.

To support the candidates it endorsed, NASW-PACE sent approximately 300 e-mails to thousands of NASW members in each endorsed candidate's district. Calls were made to members in states where NASW endorsed a Senate candidate and the race was tight. Weekly e-mails regarding the presidential election were sent on a variety of topics and members across the nation also received an email on Nov. 3, encouraging them to vote on Nov. 4.

"We are immensely proud of the candidates we endorsed who have won, because we strongly believe they will stand up for the goals that are most important to social workers," said NASW Senior Policy Associate Brian Dautch.

The PACE trustees guided the endorsement process and urged NASW members to get involved. NASW staff facilitated involvement by notifying members of the endorsements and sending them weekly messages about the Obama campaign. The trustees endorse non-incumbents who support NASW's agenda and incumbents who have shown consistent support for the social work profession in the past.

"PACE staff did an incredible job of identifying and interviewing candidates that were aligned with NASW values. This careful work provided all the information trustees needed to identify those candidates worthy of NASW endorsement," said Walruff. "PACE trustees are excited and joyful about NASW's opportunities for working with the new Congress and administration."

NASW believes a new Congress and a new president will make it easier to pass the Social Work Reinvestment Initiative, according to Elizabeth Franklin, project manager and lobbyist for the initiative. The bill will be reintroduced in the next Congress. Obama was a cosponsor of the initiative and there are 81 cosponsors in the House and 14 in the Senate. "This is a solid group to start from, so NASW is very enthusiastic about reintroducing the initiative," said Franklin.

Social workers and social work supporters have rallied behind the initiative. As of early November, 17,441 letters and postcards were sent to the House and 15,236 were mailed to the Senate.

Dautch said NASW's lobbyists will work with the newly-elected members of Congress and incumbents to continue promoting the cause of social work and the needs of their clients.

NASW's government relations staff recognizes that achieving these goals will not be easy, however.

"The biggest barrier is the financial crisis and the federal budget constraints it has produced," said NASW Senior Government Relations Associate Jim Finley. "I don't anticipate that they will resist what we are working on. It is more a matter of NASW meshing its priorities with [the Obama administration]."

NASW is promoting health care reform, legislation on social work safety, children's health (S-CHIP) expansion and social work reinvestment, including loan forgiveness. The association is also addressing civil rights issues, higher education issues and Medicare payments.

All of the social workers in Congress who were seeking re-election in November won. They include Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.); Rep. Ciro D. Rodriguez (D-Texas); Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.); Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.); Rep. Edolphus "Ed" Towns (D-N.Y.); Rep. Susan A. Davis (D-Calif.); and Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Penn.).