Texas State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, NASW’s public elected official of the year, chats with NASW President-Elect Jeane Anastas and Board of Directors member Robin Mama at a reception for national award honorees.
NASW hosted its Annual Leadership Meeting in late April that invited the association’s 56 chapter executive directors and board leaders and members of the national Board of Directors to Washington, in part to connect with their representatives in Congress.
Attendees conducted 160 Capitol Hill visits during their stay, urging representatives to support the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act (HR 1106/S 584). The proposal would create a commission to examine the profession’s workforce challenges and develop a plan of action.
NASW also invited all its members through Facebook, Twitter and an email alert to participate in a “virtual” Advocacy Day. The effort paid off — members sent hundreds of messages in support of the reinvestment act as of May 24. The effort garnered 11 additional bill co-sponsors in the House and two in the Senate.
In addition to lobbying Congress, ALM attendees heard from special guest speaker Jared Bernstein, chief economist and economic policy adviser to Vice President Joseph Biden. Bernstein has an MSW from the Hunter College School of Social Work and a master’s degree in philosophy and a Ph.D. in social welfare from Columbia University. He has said that his work in economics is his way of helping people on a systemic level.
Bernstein acknowledged that America continues its recovery phase after battling its worst economic recession in several decades. He said if it had not been for quick actions by the Obama administration and the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, the situation today could be worse.
“We have done a great deal, but we’re not out of the woods,” he said.
Bernstein also praised the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law in 2010.
“The accomplishment of this act is something we have to keep striving for,” he said, noting that the law adds tens of millions of people to the ranks of those who benefit from health insurance.
Jared Bernstein: “We have done a great deal, but we’re not out of the woods.”
Bernstein said he believes government will always have a vital role to play in the free-market system. He said his motivation to move forward is the philosophy that “we should do together what we cannot do for ourselves.”
He said he was leaving his post at the White House to lead several projects in the private sector that champion the Obama administration’s economic recovery efforts. “I am leaving to improve the quality of debate on this from the outside,” he said.
Among his new efforts, Bernstein has joined the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, an organization that addresses federal and state fiscal policy and public programs affecting low- and moderate-income families and individuals.
Attendees also heard results of NASW’s recent membership survey from Tracy Whitaker, director of the association’s Center for Workforce Studies, as well as a discussion on managing vs. leading by Bettina Deynes, NASW’s human resources director.
Another important component of ALM is the exchange of ideas and best practices through workshops. Among the offerings this year was “Mental Health Parity: How to Organize a Successful Campaign,” hosted by NASW chapter executive directors Marc Herstand of Wisconsin and Susan Dore Lamb of Maine.
Herstand explained that even though the federal Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act became law in 2008, it did not affect employers with 50 or fewer employees. Employees in states with many small businesses, such as Wisconsin, were at a disadvantage under the new law. In fact, more than 700,000 Wisconsin residents would be left unprotected, Herstand said. The Wisconsin chapter joined the New Day Coalition to support the Wisconsin Mental Health and Substance Abuse Parity Act, which passed into law last year. It requires all group health plans to provide mental health and substance abuse disorder benefits at parity.
Lamb, after serving in the Maine House of Representatives, became a legislative adviser with the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. In this role, she worked to help pass mental health parity legislation at the state level.
“You must work to gain support one step at a time,” Lamb said of her experience. She explained that a key to the legislative success was rallying individuals to tell their personal stories. “What helped were people around the country who talked about their illness,” Lamb said.
Herstand and Lamb said even though great strides have been achieved in mental health and substance abuse parity laws, there will always be opposition lurking. “You can never rest on your laurels,” Lamb said.
Kimberly Harper, executive director of the Wyoming Chapter, attended the mental health parity workshop. She noted that her state is one of two in the U.S. that lacks any legislation addressing mental health parity.
She said the workshop inspired her. “While other states have had to cut funding to mental health programs and services, Wyoming’s strong fiscal outlook and increased spending and focus on mental health care in recent years puts us in a unique position,” Harper said. “The workshop at ALM provided me with a couple of ‘a-ha’ thoughts as our professionals continue striving to enhance access to mental health services. I was also pleased to have my eyes opened to some of the barriers and threats.”
Also at ALM, the Council of Chapters Executives gave its Outstanding Chapter Executive Award to Jenna Mehnert of Pennsylvania. The council gave the Gilman-Wells Award to Danielle Smith, services coordinator for the Ohio chapter.
At a separate ceremony, NASW presented its national awards to the four previously announced recipients: Jacqueline Jackson, NASW Social Worker of the Year; Jean Tucker-Mann, Lifetime Achievement in Social Work; Clementina Chéry, NASW Public Citizen of the Year; and Eliot Shapleigh, Public Elected Official of the Year. The presentation included video tributes to each winner explaining their work.
Also at that ceremony, NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark surprised Social Work Pioneer® Bernice Harper with the announcement that an endowment fund has been established to honor Harper for her life’s work, particularly as founding president of the Foundation for Hospices in Sub-Saharan Africa. The foundation, known as FHSSA, has provided more than $2 million in funding for 93 hospice partnership programs in 15 African countries. Donations for the initial $20,000 in seed money to fund the endowment can be sent to:
Dr. Bernice Catherine Harper African Social Work Scholarship Fund
750 First Street, NE, Suite 700
Washington, DC 20002.