Oregon Legislators Back Reinvestment Act

NASW Oregon Chapter membersOregon Secretary of State Kate Brown holds an NASW Oregon Chapter-sponsored House Joint Memorial. Behind her are representatives of the chapter. From left: Debra Feammelli, chapter assistant executive director; Jesse O’Brien, student intern; Maura Roche, lobbyist; Delmar Stone, executive director; and Tera Pierce, student intern.

Oregon lawmakers think highly of social workers.

For instance, Arnie Roblan, a Democrat who is co-speaker of the state House, said he initially discovered the good social workers do for children and families when he was a high school principal.

“They keep our country together,” he said.

The representative co-sponsored the Oregon House Joint Memorial 13 this year, urging Congress to pass the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act, H.R.1106/S.584. The congressional bill seeks to establish a social work reinvestment commission that would examine the workforce challenges facing the profession and make needed recommendations to Congress and the executive branch on how social workers can keep pace with an increasing demand for services.

Roblan explained his reason for co-sponsoring the state resolution: “We need to take a serious look at social work nationwide and the impact of social workers in helping people and families.”

State bipartisan lawmakers overwhelmingly passed the measure in June. Legislators use that process to send a unified message of support to the state’s congressional delegation, as well as to the president and the rest of Congress. Such proposals do not have a fiscal impact nor require the governor’s signature.

Elizabeth Hoffler, special assistant to NASW’s executive director and a lobbyist for SWRA, said she was grateful for the efforts of the Oregon Chapter.

“This recognition will have a significant impact on the national level,” she said. “As states acknowledge the importance of reinvesting in social work, we hope that the momentum will eventually result in the passage of the Social Work Reinvestment Act at the national level.”

Delmar Stone, NASW-Oregon’s executive director, said social work leaders in the state developed a strong Social Work Reinvestment Taskforce that worked with state lawmakers to draft the memorial legislation.

“Social work leaders have been very concerned about the high debt load that social workers have after they receive their degrees, as well as low pay and the lack of social workers to fill the growing need in all areas of practice,” Stone said.

The chapter’s legislative committee wanted to make sure lawmakers in the state were aware of the important role social workers play in keeping people from falling through the cracks in society’s safety net, Stone added.

The Oregon measure notes that social work salaries are among the lowest for professionals in general and that in Oregon, the annual salary for a social worker with an average of more than 11 years of experience was $48,718.

The state proposal calls for support for social work safety and training as well as stability for the workforce through recruitment, retention, research and reinvestment initiatives.

The next step for the Oregon Chapter is asking social workers and their allies in the eastern portion of the state to contact Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Walden and urge his support of the SWRA.

“It is critical for passage of the SWRA in the U.S. Congress that the bill be bipartisan,” Stone said.

At press time, the congressional bill had 56 co-sponsors in the House and nine in the Senate.