NASW Social Work Pioneer® and civil rights icon Dr. Dorothy I. Height was joined by Reps. Edolphus "Ed" Towns (D-N.Y.) and Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) in announcing the introduction of a milestone social work bill in the U.S. House of Representatives in February.
The Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr., Social Work Reinvestment Act (H.R. 5447) is a significant initiative that, if enacted, will enable the nation's 600,000 professional social workers to better serve families and communities in need, said NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark.
Speaking at a Capitol Hill briefing and press conference Feb. 27, Height said she was proud to share her name on a bill that has been years in the making.
"This is one of the most important issues we've ever brought forward," Height said. She noted that she and the late Whitney M. Young, Jr., joined forces in the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Their collaboration led to leadership roles in social work as well.
"This bill brings us full circle to another level where we need to recognize social work and social action," said Height, a Presidential Medal of Freedom and Congressional Gold Medal recipient. "We need the people who have the skill and commitment to help us deal with the problems and move us forward."
Young was president of NASW at the time of his death in 1971. A former president of the National Urban League, Young was also a consultant to President Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty in the 1960s.
Rep. Towns, who holds an MSW degree, said the legacy left by Height and Young was a major factor in his decision to study social work.
"I'm aware of the profession's challenges," Towns said of reports that show a projected decline in the social work workforce. "This is an important piece of legislation we're putting forward." He noted how especially vital social workers are at a time when there are so many returning war veterans.
"As a social worker, I know of the significant contributions that social workers have made to the socioeconomic fabric of our nation. . . . This act is the solution to the problem," he said.
Rep. Shays said Congress should make every effort to find funding for the bill. "The paybacks of this, I think you know, will be huge," he said.
"We need the professional expertise of social workers who have figured out how to deal with many of these challenges," Shays added. "We're seeing an incredible shortage in the social work field. We need to build up the prestige."
Clark said the time is right for concrete social work reinvestment programs not only at the federal level, but also in each of the 56 jurisdictions with NASW chapters through a Social Work Reinvestment Initiative (SWRI), which is already taking place [see "Chapters Do Their Part"].
"State-based efforts to improve working conditions and educational support for social workers will be greatly strengthened by this proposed national legislation," Clark said.
The bill addresses vital issues facing the profession, including pay equity.
"Hundreds of thousands of professionally trained and educated social workers receive salaries that don't allow a middle-class existence, have insurmountable debt that they struggle to repay and face alarming safety concerns," Clark said.
She said investments were once made to educate and train the social work workforce. In recent decades, however, such support has been extremely limited. "Substantial shortages can already be found in the fields of child welfare and aging, two of the areas where social workers will be needed in extraordinary numbers going forward," she said.
"On behalf of NASW's 150,000 members and the entire social work profession, I urge each member of Congress to recognize the importance of the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr., Social Work Reinvestment Act by becoming a cosponsor and actively working to ensure passage of this legislation," Clark said.
The bill would establish a Social Work Reinvestment Commission to provide a comprehensive analysis of current practice and academic trends and challenges for the social work profession. Specifically, the commission would develop long-term recommendations and strategies to maximize the ability of America's social workers to serve their clients with expertise and care, said Elizabeth Franklin, project manager for SWRI at NASW. The commission would also research social work's impact in practice areas such as aging, child welfare, military and veteran's affairs, mental and behavioral health and disability, criminal justice, and general health.
The proposed legislation would also create competitive demonstration grants that would support efforts under way in both the private and public sectors, at the nation's institutions of higher learning and in community-based organizations already administering services to underserved client populations.
The legislation would also create post-doctoral research initiatives to expand the profession's knowledge base, Franklin said.
Organizers said the investment will be returned many times over, both in support of ongoing efforts to establish effective social service solutions and in direct service to affected client communities.
Additionally, the bill urges the president to establish a National Social Work Awareness Month that would recognize the hard work and accomplishments of America's social workers and the role they play in society.
At the briefing and press conference, Reps. Towns and Shays encouraged social workers to get in touch with their representatives and urge them to support passage of the bill.
"We need you to contact your members in Congress and say, 'This matters to me, this matters to society, and would you please cosponsor the bill,'" Shays said.
At press time, H.R. 5447 was in the House Committee on Education and Labor.
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Writing to Congress ...
Over the years, NASW has asked you to speak out on behalf of many causes and issues. You have always risen to the occasion. Significant strides have been made in areas such as children's health care, employment nondiscrimination and fair pay legislation. Your advocacy has resulted in the enhanced mental health, social and psychosocial functioning of clients across the country.
I am calling on you today, however, to ask each of you to take a small action, that when combined, can ensure the future of the profession.
On February 14, 2008, the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act (H.R. 5447) was introduced in the United States House of Representatives by Congressman and fellow social worker Edolphus Towns (D-NY) along with original cosponsors Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT), Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA), Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-TX), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH).
This groundbreaking legislation bears the names of two of the United States' greatest social justice advocates and social workers and serves as an investment in the professionals that will care for the millions of aging baby boomers, wounded veterans, the ever-increasing numbers of people diagnosed with cancer, over six million youth with a serious mental illness and the millions of people living with HIV/AIDS among others. Yet, insurmountable education debt, insufficient salaries and serious safety concerns are threatening the profession. The Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act (H.R. 5447) will explore the many successful efforts already undertaken by our nation's social workers, while examining the persistent challenges to these efforts.
Social work has always been at the forefront of ensuring that the most vulnerable in society have a safety net of protection. Our communities are in need, more than ever for vital services provided by over 600,000 social workers across the nation. Passage of this legislation is crucial to ensure an adequate social work workforce. The future of this profession depends on the steps that we take to reinvest in it today. We cannot make this happen without the assistance of every one of our members across the country.
Please help us ensure that the profession of social work will grow and thrive in the coming decades. I am asking you, as a leader in the profession, to encourage your Representative to cosponsor H.R. 5447.
For more information, contact Elizabeth Franklin at (202) 408-8600 ext. 537 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elizabeth J. Clark, PhD, ACSW, MPH
NASW Executive Director
Dear Representative __________,
On February 14, 2008, Rep. Edolphus Towns introduced the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act (H.R. 5447). As a constituent, a professional social worker and member of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), the largest professional social work organization in the nation with 150,000 members, I urge you to show your support for this essential legislation by becoming a cosponsor and actively working to ensure its passage.
I am proud to represent the profession that will care for the millions of aging baby boomers, wounded veterans, the ever-increasing numbers of people diagnosed with cancer, six million youth diagnosed with a serious mental illness and the millions of people living with HIV and AIDS. Yet I am also acutely aware of the many barriers social workers face, including insurmountable education debt, insufficient salaries and serious safety concerns that are threatening the profession. There is already a significant shortage of professional social workers in the fields of aging and child welfare. This shortage will increase as the baby boomers continue to age. Additionally, many of the more complex challenges facing the nation, such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, cannot be addressed adequately without assessing the immediate and long-term challenges facing the workforce that will be tasked with providing these vital support services.
The Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act takes important steps to ensure the future of the profession of social work. The legislation explores the many successful efforts already undertaken by our nation's social workers, while examining the persistent challenges to these efforts. A Social Work Reinvestment Commission will provide a comprehensive analysis of current workforce trends and develop long-term recommendations and strategies to ensure an adequate social work workforce. Demonstration programs will also award grants in the areas of workplace improvements, research, education and training and community-based programs of excellence. This investment will be returned many times over, both in support of ongoing efforts to establish effective social service solutions and in direct service to affected client populations.
The Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act is a crucial step to guarantee that the social work profession can grow and thrive in the coming decades. The future of the profession depends on the measures that are taken to reinvest today. Please show your support for the profession of social work by signing on as a cosponsor as well as actively working to ensure the passage of this legislation. Contact Jason Powell in Representative Edolphus Towns' office at (202) 255-5936 or Jason.Powell@mail.house.gov to become a cosponsor.