Social work bill needs to be reworked, passed

Photo courtesy of Matinfalbisoer, Wikipedia

As a master’s level student in the School of Social Work at Ramapo College, I am passionate about my career and my profession. I recently learned there is a bill in Congress right now that would pump tens of millions of dollars into the field of social work for grants, research and education that we, as social workers, have not been able to get passed for the last 10 years. It has been submitted to the last five sessions of Congress with no results. 

So, there are millions of dollars that could potentially be diverted into the social work profession, and I figured that there would be countless marches and events and campaigns to get this passed. 

I wrote to the National Association of Social Workers to see what our national organization was doing to promote this bill. I was told that “we do not currently have an action alert for this bill.” That seemed odd. 

It was like contacting the Dairy Farmers of America and having them tell you that they're not interested in talking about the plummeting prices of milk because they're busy. It felt as if we had given up on ourselves. 

It’s not that social workers don’t need the money. Social workers earn the least on average of any profession that requires a master’s level degree. Making around $45,000 a year, 80 percent of us will rack up about $40,000 in debt getting the degree, according to the Council on Social Work Education.

It’s not that social workers refuse to pull their weight. Traditionally we deal with the ugly, dangerous, scary and unpleasant elements of society. On a daily basis, we help those with serious mental illnesses, substance use disorders and Alzheimer’s disease. We guide abandoned and unwanted children or elderly people, child abuse and human trafficking victims, people with HIV and AIDS, veterans and prisoners struggling to reintegrate into society.

We are right there so you don’t have to be. This is not a favor to anyone, it’s just what drives us and fulfills us, but a lot of other industries get hazard pay for working in difficult, dangerous and harmful conditions. 

The Social Work Reinvestment Act needs to be re-written. It has massively broad goals and it’s trying to do too much at once. The version of the bill that didn’t pass in the 114th Congress is almost word-for-word the same bill that was submitted in the 115th. If the bill hasn’t passed in 10 years, there is a message there. Try something different. 

Since the 1800s, professional social workers have been champions of the vulnerable, oppressed and those living in poverty. We empower the hopeless and fight discrimination.  

We rally organizations, communities and entire social institutions to address some of society’s greatest problems. Now, we are the ones who could use some help. Someone needs to get involved, step in and help us so that we can get back to what we so passionately love to do, which is to help others.

I would encourage you to contact the bill’s sponsor Barbara Lee and ask her why she thinks HR1289 hasn’t passed and what she plans to do differently.