By Paul R. Pace
As the nation’s social workers welcome the Biden-Harris administration and the 117th Congress, NASW has issued its 2021 Blueprint of Federal Social Policy Priorities, which outlines urgently needed policy solutions in 21 issue areas.
The Blueprint is organized according to the Grand Challenges for Social Work, which is a science-supported agenda for social progress, developed by the social work profession.
NASW says the recommendations are immediate, tangible and meaningful steps to promote mental and behavioral health, address economic inequality, and ensure that civil and human rights are protected for everyone.
The blueprint was sent to the new administration and members of Congress, and will be sent to federal agencies as well. It will serve as a guidepost for lawmakers and federal agencies for the next four years.
“We look forward to continuing to partner with Congress, the (Biden) administration and other stakeholders in advancing these priorities,” NASW states.
Social Work Workforce
Social workers not only provide direct services in a broad range of settings, they also lead health and human services agencies, perform cutting-edge research, and develop and implement sound federal, state and local policies.
The nation’s 700,00 social workers are an essential workforce and have been since the founding of the profession more than a century ago.
“We are among the most racially diverse mental and behavioral health and health care professions, and provide critically needed services to millions of Americans every day in a broad range of settings, including health care facilities, schools, child welfare, community agencies, correctional institutions, and private practice,” the document says.
To support the profession, the document suggests national leaders:
- Facilitate and fund interstate licensure portability for clinical social workers.
- Make permanent the telehealth expansion under COVID-19, including removing site and geographic restrictions, enabling the use of audio-only devices, and payment parity with in-person payment rates.
- Provide student loan debt relief for social workers, including the Public Service Loan Forgiveness, federal loan cancellation, and others.
- Pass the Employer Participation in Repayment Act, which allows employers to make nontaxable payments up to $5,250 toward employees’ student loans.
- Pass the Improving Access to Mental Health Act to enable CSWs participating in Medicare to bill independently to provide health and behavior assessment and intervention services and services to skilled nursing facility residents, and to increase their reimbursement rate.
- Pass the Protecting Social Workers and Health Professionals from Workplace Violence Act to promote safety on the job.
- Pass the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young Jr., Social Work Reinvestment Act to support the social work workforce.
NASW looks to the new administration and Congress to galvanize the country around fighting the most devastating public health crisis in America since 1918, and its economic and many other impacts. The rapid deployment of the COVID-19 vaccines is crucial in our recovery and the relief packages to date continue to be instrumental in mitigating the devastation. But more action is needed to save lives and livelihoods.
Among NASW’s suggestions to national leaders is to:
- Deploy the COVID-19 vaccine as quickly as possible, prioritizing essential workers.
- Provide additional COVID-19 economic relief and stimulus packages; include direct payments to all adult Americans, including adult dependents.
- Implement a nationwide mask mandate and condition COVID-19 relief funding on implementation of effective mitigation strategies, including the use of masks and social distancing as well as notice to and quarantine of close contacts of individuals infected with COVID-19 in schools and institutions of higher education.
- Create universal testing and contact tracing systems.
- Expand eligibility for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and mandate that states modify work requirements for SNAP eligibility for single adults.
Mental and Behavioral Health
Mental and behavioral health are crucial components of overall health. Social workers play a vital role in promoting mental and behavioral health and do so in a broad range of settings and communities and with a wide array of populations.
Among the recommendations, NASW calls on national leaders to:
- Make permanent the telehealth expansion under COVID-19, including removing site and geographic restrictions, enabling the use of audio-only devices and payment parity with in-person payment rates.
- Enforce current legal and regulatory requirements around parity and identify and address gaps.
- Support co-responder initiatives and legislation such as the Community-Based Response Act.
- Invest in the further development of the national 211 call number for community information and referral services.
- Pass the Behavioral Health Coordination and Communication Act to establish the position of Interagency Coordinator for Behavioral Health to coordinate the programs and activities of the federal government relating to mental health.
Another issue in the blueprint urges high-quality health care for all. It notes six in 10 American adults have a chronic disease and four in 10 have at least two such diseases.
NASW supports the enactment of a national health care policy that ensures access to a full, coordinated continuum of physical and mental health and social care services for all people. A single-payer system that ensures universal access to these services is the best means to achieve this goal, and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) moves the nation in the right direction. The ACA should be preserved and expanded.