The Social Work Reinvestment Initiative (SWRI) received extra support in April as Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md., upper right) introduced, and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich., lower right) cosponsored, legislation to help the nation's 600,000 social workers better serve families and communities.
Mikulski and Stabenow, both social workers, championed the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr., Social Work Reinvestment Act (S. 2858) — on World Social Work Day, April 15 — to address a nationwide shortage of social workers.
It is the companion bill to the U.S. House proposal (H.R. 5447) that was introduced in February. Both bills seek to create a Social Work Reinvestment Commission to study policy issues associated with recruitment, retention, research and reinvestment in the social work profession.
"I'm fighting to address the social worker shortage, not just as the senator from Maryland who is standing up for her constituents, but also as a professionally trained social worker," Mikulski said. "I have provided these very services and realize what will happen if my constituents cannot get them. I will continue to fight for workers and the people who rely on the critical work they provide to our nation's most vulnerable citizens."
NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark said the association was honored that two of the most distinguished members of the U.S. Senate are helping lead the social work reinvestment campaign.
"America's professional social workers need greater support to continue providing millions of struggling individuals and families with valuable mental health, social and psychological services," Clark said.
Mikulski said that without more trained social workers, individuals in dire need of health, educational and family-support services would "simply fall through the cracks unserved."
In her announcement, Mikulski said social work "is about putting our values into action. Social workers have the ability to provide psychological, emotional and social support — quite simply, the ability to change lives. That is why we must recruit, retain and research. I think we can do better by our nation's troops, seniors and children by making sure we have the social work workforce in place to meet their needs."
Positive strides are already taking place for the initiative. At the end of April, around 6,000 letters were sent to U.S. senators, and some 12,000 letters or postcards went to House members supporting the reinvestment bills. At press time, there were 62 cosponsors of the House version of the act as well, noted Elizabeth Franklin, project manager of SWRI.
Clark also sent letters to NASW members asking for their continued support for the initiative by urging passage of the Senate companion bill. "As you know, both chambers must pass the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr., Social Work Reinvestment Act for it to be enacted into law," Clark wrote. "Therefore, your action at this moment is critical."
Clark urged members to contact their senators and ask them to cosponsor the bill.
Other updates for the initiative in April include a message from the deans, directors and chairpersons of the MSW and BSW social work schools and programs in Massachusetts, who joined the NASW Massachusetts Chapter in sending a letter to Congress urging support for the reinvestment act.
"Formal social work education optimally prepares students to understand and address, at multiple levels, some of our society's most complex social problems," the letter stated. It went on to note that passage of the act will create a commission and structures for demonstrating excellence in professional social work education, practice and research. "Such structures will support the recruitment and retention of social workers who hold the knowledge, skills, values and continuing commitment to work directly with and advance the well-being of individuals, families and communities," it stated.
Also, several prominent social work organizations joined in supporting the legislation by signing on to a letter stating that social workers are more necessary today than at any other time in U.S. history. "They are also facing barriers that challenge the profession, including insurmountable education debt, insufficient salaries and serious safety concerns."
The letter was signed by Action Network for Social Work Education and Research, Association of Baccalaureate Social Work Program Directors, Association of Oncology Social Work, Clinical Social Work Association, Council on Social Work Education, Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education in Social Work, Institute for the Advancement of Social Work Research, National Association of Deans and Directors of Schools of Social Work, Social Welfare Action Alliance and Society for Social Work and Research.
Clark has made presentations on the initiative at NASW chapter conferences in recent months, including those taking place in Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Tennessee. She also joined members of the Kentucky Chapter in their recent full day of SWRI activities.
Get more information: Social Work Reinvestment Initiative.