A Lesson in Policy Advocacy: A Day at the Capitol

Advocacy is an important part of what we do as social workers. We are charged to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. We are to gather information and disseminate it to those who need it, who do not have access to it, who cannot understand it, or who may not even know that they need it.

The What: NASW Legislative Day at the Oklahoma Capitol. On February 7, 2017, the Zarrow School of Social Work attended the National Association of Social Workers Legislative Day at the Oklahoma Capitol in Oklahoma City. While there, we listened to legislators speak about issues that pertain to social work.

The Why: speaking for those who are vulnerable. I chose to reflect on this activity because it was something that I had never previously done before. I have never had the opportunity to go to the state capitol (even though I have lived in and near several state capitols) and listen to my legislators talk about issues they are passionate about that affect me.

The How: showing up. It is hard to take time out of your day, drive into the city, find parking, and then sit and listen to politicians talk about issues that might be boring. At least they might be boring to some. But that is what we did: almost my entire cohort and me. Even before this, several of us took a tour that, at times, seemed patriarchal and condescending. Those are difficult things for a bunch of social workers to deal with. But we dealt for the greater good. From here, we went panel discussions, had lunch, and then went on to meet with our representatives.

The results. I was very excited to do this, since I actually voted for Scott Martin. He lives near me and even came to my house to talk issues before the election. Imagine my dismay to discover that almost all the state senators and representatives were on their way to a funeral. That had me scratching my head. Were they all going to the same funeral? Who died? Why were they ALL going? It seemed as if most of the people we tried to meet had someplace else to be. That doesn’t make a ton of sense, since they were supposed to be in session. That means they were supposed to be in their offices. I speculated that they’d all had plenty of warning that we were coming, so they created reasons to be gone. Oh well. Sometimes advocacy doesn’t work out the way you want.

The lesson. The lesson learned we not the easiest lessons because it seemed that so few of our representatives were available to talk to us. It was tough to deal with the idea that maybe they didn’t want to talk with us. Or maybe they did really all have a funeral to go to! I have no idea. I did learn, however, that persistence is one of the most important traits a social worker can have. You just have to keep showing up.

I can imagine that a huge crew of social activists (aka social workers) would be intimidating for anyone in a position of power to deal with. What is so frustrating is that they should be happy to see us. We have their constituents’ best interests at heart, just like they claim. We can provide valuable insights that they might be blind to for whatever reason.

Like I said before, just keep showing up.

Policy Advocacy Interview Reflection

Hello!

Every time I hit the submit button on an assignment, I breathe a little sigh of relief. This semester has put me through the wringer. I know I’m not the only person who feels this way either. What is up with the second semester of grad school? I don’t recall feeling this way during my first masters degree (shout out to Wisconsin!). Granted, the course requirements were HALF the size of this one.

Below you will find the reflection of a recent paper I submitted. It is about advocacy, policy, and the wide world of school counseling. I am blessed to have a field instructor who gives freely of her time to others AND to me. Take a peek. Identifying information has been removed.

Reflection

            RW is my field instructor, and I have learned numerous things from her. One thing I have learned specifically is: you never know when the opportunity for advocacy might arise. It would seem obvious that it would be in a behavior plan meeting or the like, but there have been many times when a child needs advocacy in the classroom with their teacher. Some teachers just do not understand the unique needs of certain students, and that is where her work comes in.

Another thing I have learned is: if I do not do it, who will? We can never assume that another person will come stand in the gap for anyone. We have to be ready to meet that need. There might be someone hot on our heels who can provide additional support or even take over for us when we are no longer adequate, but we must be ready.

There are many things I will take from this interview as well as my time working with RW. One of those things is to be familiar with the policy that affects the population I am serving. I might not spend my career in a school setting, and I need have some level of understanding of the policies that affect those for whom I care.

Finally, I will delegate to those who are capable. I do not like delegating because I feel that no one is capable of doing as good a job as me on whatever task I assign. I have to get out of this mindset, or I will go crazy. There are people around us, in the workplace and otherwise, who are just as capable of meeting needs and taking care of problems as I am. They might do it differently than I would, but it is effective just the same.

BP11: Child welfare, or “Making your kid clean his room doesn’t violate child labor laws, does it?”

Explain 2 historical policies pertaining to child welfare and 2 current (or recent) aspects of child welfare not relating to out-of-home placement (aka “child welfare” as a part of DHS). 

I don’t know about you, but I’m stuffed with food and love from Easter festivities. We do it up right at my house. Ham, mashed potatoes, asparagus, deviled eggs, homemade bread, and pavlova for dessert.

Here’s that recipe if you’re interested:

http://www.marthastewart.com/332803/pavlova

Oy, child welfare is dicey. My practicum placement is in a public school, and I get to see the good, the bad, and the ugly of child welfare, including the icky DHS stuff. But, here we go…

I LOVE that the history of child welfare in this country begins with a dude named Charles Loring Brace who moved poor and orphaned street kids from crappy urban settings into farm families in the Midwest. While this tactic split up families, it got kids who were in terrible conditions into better ones, hanging out with cows and corn in Wisconsin and such. I’m a bit of a country mouse anyway.

Let’s talk about Etta Wheeler for a minute. When she found out about the abuse that was being exacted upon a 9-year old indentured child (read: slave), she went to the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to find out what could be done. You read that right. Animals. There was nothing to protect children yet. Because of her work to right this wrong, the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was created. Now, a lot of folks think that, during her work, she was advocating for this child as if she were an animal, but that is not the case. She was acting as an advocate of an abused child.

Another historical issue that came up was the issue of child labor. There were a lot of destitute families at the turn of the 20th Century and going into the Great Depression. Families did what they thought was best and put their kids to work to make ends meet. Kids worked in coal mines, which isn’t good for ANYONE, but there were zero protections for them or for women. In 1916 the Child Labor Act was put in place to prohibit the interstate transportation of goods that were made by children. In 1918, the Child Labor Act was ruled unconstitutional (uh oh) and most other attempts to protect women and children were thwarted until 1935 with the Social Security Act. This is crazy to me. My grandfather was born in 1915 (he passed away almost 9 years ago), and was the youngest of 9 children. Any of them could have worked as children without any sort of protections in place. Scary.

There are many federal grants that are helping parents with child care these days. The primary programs are the federal dependent care tax credit, the child care tax credit, the Child Care and Development Block Grant, and Title XX. These programs were designed to assist low-income families with childcare so they can work. As a working mom, I can attest to the fact that childcare is EXPENSIVE. Unfortunately, I always made too much money to qualify for these services.

Currently, my biggest concern is for children’s education. I consider this a child welfare issue because every child has the right to a good education. Our public school system is being threatened as well as all the things that fall under the umbrella of public school. Free and reduced lunch programs for children are being rethought. I work in a place where 92% of children are on free or reduced lunch. 92%! If those protections were to change, what would that mean for those kids? Our Secretary of Education does not believe that all schools who receive federal funding, whether public, charter, or private, should be equally accountable to the US government (read: school voucher program). In layperson’s terms: if a parent doesn’t want to send their kid to public school, they can go to private school and get vouchers from the government to subsidize some of the cost. But, those schools receiving those funds would NOT be held to the same standards at the public schools.

…so, how many more days do we have til summer? Because I’m craving a margarita and a pool deck, STAT.

Policy Blog Post 10: Our House is a very, very, very fine house..

Choose from housing, homelessness, or food policy.  Trace historical roots (including at least 3 aspects or discrete pieces of legislation) and at least 2 current issues.

Happy Monday! I had a crazy weekend that was filled with 24 children in my 1700 square foot home, muddy shoes, water balloons, Nerf gun battles, a ripped trampoline, some kid getting shot in the eye, and another kid getting pistol whipped. It made for a great birthday party for my 10-year-old! Speaking of housing….

Let’s talk about how the U.S. government has tried to solve housing problems. We’ll start by talking about the 1937 Housing Act.

  1. Let’s be honest. We try to be the white saviors and end up dehumanizing folks. It’s not something that we should be good at, but dang, we’re SO GOOD AT IT. The 1937 Housing Act started out with good intentions. It wanted to rid the US of unsafe housing situations and slums. The US Housing Authority came from this. Everyone wants to feel like they are safe, right? The 1949 amendment to this act cleared slums and redeveloped the area into single-family homes. Half the homes were subsidized for low-income families.
  2. The 1954 Housing Act amendment strove for “urban renewal”. What does that mean? It means further slum clearance, removal of “urban blight” (what does that even mean??), and the avoidance of constructing public housing. Basically, if you were pushed out with the slum clearance, you couldn’t come back because you couldn’t afford it. Yay, progress! Remember, we’re rolling in on the Civil Rights Movement.
  3. It’s not all bad though! Let’s jump ahead to the 1976 Home Mortgage Disclosure Act. This was an attempt to keep the banks honest (I’m laughing as I type that) and prevent redlining. What’s redlining, you might ask? Redlining was a practice by banks (it’s illegal, btdubz) that prevented the issuance of mortgages to families and business based on the racial or ethnic makeup of the area. It could be overt or covert through raising prices or property taxes. It still happens…anyhoo…
  4. Gentrification is a major problem across the country. We push minorities out by raising home prices and taxes around them in order to ‘raise up’ the neighborhood. Redlining is part of this.
  5. The current administration put Ben Carson in charge of Housing and Urban Development. Ben Carson is a neurosurgeon who has ZERO experience in this area. I’d say this is a significant issue.

I have more to say, but I’m out of time! Argh!!

EDIT: per the request of my professor, the song…

Policy BP 9: Crime and Punishment

There are two main philosophies regarding crime and corrections:  rehabilitation (trying to help reform prisoners so they don’t reoffend) and punishment (giving consequences to those who offend as punishment and also a deterrent against future criminals).  Based on what the book says, would you say the US has historically had a rehabilitative or punitive approach to crime?  Do you see this continuing or changing, based on current issues and trends?  Defend your position with at least 3 historical policies and one current trend.

It’s Monday again!! Class, today we’re talking about how the United States has a long history of mistreating people in the prison system. Historically, we’ve enjoyed torturing and sterilizing criminals, treating them as inferiors, and disregarding those who suffer from mental illness. We do love our punitive approach to crime. Unfortunately this seems to be continuing, and I’ll bring that up once I list the historical and current policies.

1983 Comprehensive Crime Control Act-redid the federal sentencing system and revised bail.

1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act-this law increased the number of crimes that are punishable by death and established a three-strikes law. This also mandated registration for sex offenders.

1999 Three Strikes Law-Increase prison sentences for those previously convicted of crimes that are violent and limits punishment to nothing but a prison sentence.

NOTE: I remember being so stoked when this law passed. Now I just see my tax dollars going bye-bye because adult responsibilities.

A current trend further into punitive punishment is directly reflected in the recall of the Oklahoma state bills 780 and 781 that would reduce sentencing for non-violent drug offenders and offer rehabilitation. The people of Oklahoma passed that bill, but it was recalled by the House and Senate. Hmm?? Don’t get it. Why does the state government not trust that the people of this state know what we want? And now there is no money for reform because of the spending freeze. Awesome.

 

 

 

 

Policy BP8: Let’s do drugs!

How has U.S. federal drug and mental health policy positively and negatively affected mental health and substance abuse in the U.S.?  Use at least 2 policies for each (mental health and substance abuse) to defend your answer.

Happy Monday! What a perfect blog post for this part of the semester. I will only speak for myself, but I am in a place where my mental health is suffering. I can probably speak for everyone actually…

Good Stuff

  • NAMH came out of mental health reform. It provides social support and treatment for the mentally ill. They provided protections for those who were targeted by supporters of the eugenics movement.
  • The Mental Health Act of 1946 established the National Institute of Mental Health. This examined the mental health needs of the country. NIMH then released Action for Mental Health that modernized US psychiatric care.
  • The National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI) accepts philanthropy from drug companies and helped with further destigmatization.

Bad Stuff

  • Although deinstitutionalization is a good thing, helping to destigmatize mental health, now there are many mental health patients that are “adrift”, as the book states. This leads to chronic hospitalization and homelessness.
  • Psychotropic meds are now more routine than ever. Heck, I’m on anxiety meds! Meds that should be used within the controlled environment of a hospital are being prescribed to outpatients. The side effects of these drugs make it difficult for someone not in an inpatient facility to function.
  • NAMI takes money from drug companies. I can’t see how this is going to always be a good thing. HINT: special interests.

Overall, the destigmatization of mental illness and the use of drugs to treat mental illness is a very good thing.

Social Policy BP 7: Medicaid and Medicare

Describe Medicaid & Medicare, including how they are administered, who they cover, eligibility, and efforts to cut costs in each program.

Can we talk for a moment about how grad students don’t get a Spring Break? Because we don’t. I went to Colorado for a few days with my son, and I had serious guilt about it. I knew everyone else in the cohort was slaving away on their little laptops, writing papers and other things for all the classes and everything that is due (and STILL managed to all be due at the same time).

That has nothing to do with Medicaid and Medicare. I just needed a moment to vent. Venting done.

I made this little chart that quickly touches on Medicaid and Medicare. One thing I found terribly interesting in the reading is that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was created in part as a stop-gap to keep Medicare from going belly-up! It does appear that, unless the Boomers start actively dying, it will go belly-up sooner than later. And, now that it seems ACA has been chopped with no effective replacement (yet), we can say bye-bye to Medicare very, very soon. But let’s not think about that. Let’s look a my handy-dandy chart instead!

Medicaid

 

Medicare

 

Description

 

Largest public assistance program in the US. Medical coverage and who is covered is determined by the state under broad federal guidelines. Covers: inpatient and outpatient hospital services, prenatal and 60 days postpartum care, vaccines for kids, doctor services, nursing facilities for 21 and over, family planning, rural clinic services, and many other services. 2nd largest social insurance program in the US behind Social Security. Largest public payer of healthcare. Designed to help the elderly with prepaid hospital and optional medical insurance. Part A: Hospital Insurance. Part B: Supplemental Medical Insurance. Part C: Medicare Advantage Program. Part D: Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003.
How is it administered?

 

Administered through the state. Eligibility varies state-by-state. Administered by the US government. Premiums for Part A are derived from payroll taxes.
Who is covered?

 

Limited and low-income families with children who meet certain requirements. Supplemental Security Income recipients. Infants born to Medicaid-eligible women and through the first year of life. Poor children under 19. Foster and adoption assisted families and children. Other “needy” groups as determined by the state. Part A is provided free for persons 65 or older who are eligible for SS or Railroad Retirement benefits. Other parts of Medicare are available for a premium.
Eligibility

 

Each state has its own guidelines regarding who is eligible. This can cause wide variety among states. A person might be eligible in one state but not in another state, depending on that state’s guidelines. Must be 65 or over and eligible for SS or RR benefits. Part B available to US citizens and approved legal aliens.
Cost cutting measures

 

Many states require that patients on Medicaid also enroll in state-contracted HMOs. Medicare doesn’t cover everything, and there is a 3rd-party “Medigap” insurance available at a premium for things that Medicare doesn’t cover. The Affordable Care Act was also a cost-cutting measure that was projected to keep the Part A trust from going bankrupt until 2029.

Yay! You made it to the bottom of the chart. You are rewarded with a picture of one of my red tulips.

Jill

BP6: AFDC vs. TANF: the grudge match

Explain AFDC & TANF.  Discuss the ideological and political changes surrounding the switch from AFDC to TANF. Describe the differences & similarities between the two programs.  

These blog posts have been eerily on-target with whatever is going on in my life at the time.

I have a friend who experiences pretty intense instability in every area of her life. Yesterday I was helping her move out of her house because she was being evicted. After months of struggle and food insecurity, she finally filed for SNAP and TANF. I felt good that I was able to explain some of the benefits of it to her and also comfort her with the knowledge that, as a taxpayer, she’s already paid for these services. Now she gets to use them.

I’m a big proponent of working smarter, not harder (although I do work hard). I found this super nifty chart that lays out many of the similarities and differences in AFDC and TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families).

A major ideological difference in AFDC and TANF is the idea that people were “living off the system”, since there were no limits on how long a person could be on assistance. TANF is a five-year limit. Another difference is the idea that children had to be deprived of support by one parent because of death, separation, divorce, or desertion.

I can see the perspective of those who feel that people “live off” welfare and do not support government support. Those people are likely recalling AFDC, however, and are uneducated on how TANF works. Check out the chart.

I pulled this from www.advocatesforyouth.org.

 

AFDC/EA/JOBS
(before 1997)

TANF
(after 1997)

Federal Funding
  • Unlimited for AFDC and EA
  • Capped entitlement for JOBS
  • Federal share of AFDC and JOBS costs varied inversely with state per capita income
  • Fixed grant
  • Plus: (1) contingency fund and loans for states with high population growth and low welfare spending; (2) welfare-to-work grants (through FY 2003); and (3) bonuses to states that reduce the number of out-of-wedlock births and abortions
State Funding
  • Matching required for each federal dollar
  • States must spend 75 percent of “historic” level (100 percent for contingency funds) and must provide matching for contingency funds
Categories Eligibility
  • Children with one parent or with an incapacitated or unemployed second parent
  • Set by state
Income Limits
  • Set by state
  • Set by state
Benefit Levels
  • Set by state
  • Set by state
Entitlement
  • States required to aid all families eligible under state income standards
  • TANF expressly denies entitlement to some individuals
Work Requirement
  • JOBS Program had participation requirements, but not work requirements
  • By 2002, states must have 50 percent of their caseload in specified work activities
Exemptions from Work Requirement
  • Parents (chiefly mothers) with a child under age three (under age one at state option)
  • None, but states may exempt single parents caring for children under age 1
Work Trigger
  • None
  • Work (as defined by the state) required after a maximum of two years of benefits
Time Limit for Benefits
  • None
  • Five-year time limit (20 percent hardship exceptions allowed)

Policy Blog Post 5: “Can’t we all just get along?”

Explain the role the voluntary and private sector have in social welfare.  Describe at least 2 benefits and 2 concerns relating to the voluntary sector and/or the private sector in general.

“You cannot feed the hungry on statistics.”-David Lloyd George

I’m coming from a lively discussion in HBSE2, and I’m kind of reeling from it. We watched the documentary A Place at the Table which highlights some of the voluntary sector with regards to the increase in hunger across our country and closing the gap of hunger. I started the discussion by saying that I wanted to reduce my lip service and start actually helping out. I want to begin meeting needs instead of just talking about it. There was far more on the minds of my cohorts.

The conversation devolved into a bit of mud slinging. I think others would disagree with me, but I felt extremely uncomfortable. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but to say that people who make more money than “the rest of us” are somehow morally inferior?? Really? It’s morally inferior to make $250k a year. Really? How can someone make that kind of generalization without knowing the heart of the person they are talking about? I don’t know what that person is doing with their funds. I don’t know what kind of situation they came from. I don’t know if they are donating to charities on a regular basis. I don’t know if they have medical bills, other family issues, etc. I won’t make those kinds of comments. Even more important to the kind of work I want to do is this: I won’t make those comments because, eventually, I might ask for donations from these people, and the last thing I want to do is piss someone off because they got wind of a comment I made in a class I took in grad school about how I think that I’m morally superior because I care about social justice and make a pittance compared to them. But I digress…except this isn’t a digression!! This dovetails right into the blog post.

The voluntary sector relies on charity! Many of the grants that are applied for are funded through the trust of a rich dead person. Faith-based services are funded through the donations given by their congregants. Ideally, a person who is making a lot of money will be giving a lot to their church or charity of choice. Until the government closes the gap and gets on board with taking care of the people of this country, we need those voluntary and private sector donors to meet the needs of hurting people.

Another poignant thing that came up in conversation was this: are these charities enabling people to stay unemployed and in the system? Maybe yes. But the system is fatally flawed, is it not? The poverty line is so low and the threshold for receiving services is so low that, in order to qualify and meet the needs of yourself and your family, some folks are opting to only work part time. Full-time work is honorable, but what do you do when all your assistance is quickly cut? There is no opportunity for transition for these people who are struggling to get on their feet and then stay there.

This is where the idea of privatization might come in. Many people think that private sector charities and philanthropy are far more efficient than public welfare systems. The private sector can meet the needs of people without all the red tape of bureaucracy. However, private entities function without any government regulation (not a horrible thing), and therefore are more apt to discriminate against certain people or ethnic groups (a horrible thing).

So what’s the fix? I’m detail oriented, not big-picture. Micro. I want to go out and, one at a time, help the people that I come across. I’m not willing to get into a shouting match with my cohorts about how the system is broken but not do a damn thing about it. What are we going to do, people, besides yell at each other??

If you need me, I’ll be at Food and Shelter.

Social Policy Blog Post 4: “Who’s poor?”

Discuss at least 2 ways poverty and unemployment are measured as well as how these measures affect pictures of poverty or unemployment.  [For example, would the poverty threshold or poverty guidelines measure higher?  How might this affect legislation regarding poverty.]

*Clarification – for 2 ways to measure unemployment, how does the federal government measure unemployment?  Who might this leave out that it should include?

Let’s start this off by saying I am poor. I Uber for income and sometimes make money singing, but I do not have a steady job. I am a student. I have ungodly amounts of debt. I am poor.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about what the government thinks.

According to the text, the two ways of measuring poverty are poverty threshold and poverty guideline. The poverty threshold is more commonly known as the poverty line. Threshold tends to be higher than guideline. Threshold is used strictly for statistical purposes, while guideline is used to determine whether or not someone is eligible for federal programs like TANF and SNAP.

In my personal experience, neither one of these things takes into account debt-to-income ratio. I was divorced and co-parenting my son with minimal child support and no alimony. I was working full time and making money at a rate above the poverty line, so I didn’t qualify for any federal aid. If I’d dropped a day at work, I would have qualified! These levels of poverty exclude the working poor. Those who are trying to pay off debt, working full time, and make too much money to qualify for the things they need.

Unemployment is measureable. Anyone who doesn’t have a job is unemployed. Underemployment is not as measurable. It can mean those who are working below their skill set or education level. It can also mean those who want to work more hours than they are working.

Regarding employment, in the US a loss of a job might trigger short-term poverty. Then there is the idea of structural unemployment. Structural unemployment occurs when there are changes in the way things are done, like technological advancements in certain labor and factory jobs. These advancements create unemployment for some because the workers’ skill sets are limited.

I’ve been underemployed almost my entire working life. I’ve been college educated since 2001 and obtained my first masters degree in 2006. I’ve worked entry-level positions in non-profits. I tried to get promoted but didn’t have the “right” education. (I have a master of music.) This was during those years when I was struggling as a single parent. I understand that feeling of not being able to get ahead or even catch up because it feels like the system is set up to defeat you.