Whittier College students saw miles and miles of green, almond fields and cow pastures as they travelled up north this last weekend to the State Capitol in Sacramento. These 26 students enrolled in Professor Gretchen Heidemann’s Social Welfare policy class, traveled to the capitol to join 1400 other social worker majors to lobby for change in United States policy at the 28th Annual Lobby Days.
During the Lobby Days training held at the Sacramento Convention Center Complex, students heard from prestigious members of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) including California Director of Government Relations and Political Affairs Rebecca Gonzalez.
“What we can do as social workers is be well informed of these bills and talk about all the different perspectives. Even though these assembly members and people in Congress have a lot of experience, they receive so many bills that they may not know about these important bills that will promote the welfare and the well-being of these populations living in poverty,” Gonzalez said. “Be that voice that speaks for those undermined and vulnerable populations who…could not be here today.”
Other California universities were in attendance and introduced themselves during the welcome address at the convention center. “They sure brought it,” junior and social work major Angelica Navarette said of the other universities who presented their own school chant. “So we have to represent Whittier.”
Together Navarette and a couple of other event participants hyped up the group as they started chanting their own Lobby Days Chant during the closing rally that was set to the tune of “We Will Rock You.” They clapped four times and began…
“We’re Dub C and we come to lobby
Come to rock this song in the SAC
We got love on our face
So here’s a taste
Coming to lobby in this place
We will we will lobby (Whittier!)
We will we will lobby (Poets!)”
Throughout the lobby day training session, distinguished and licensed social workers presented on the three bills that students would advocate for including the Repeal of the Maximum Family Grant (MFG) and the SSI and SSP Payments.
“Not only does the Maximum Family Grant policy deny $130 a month to a child based on how and when they are conceived, but it furthers the cycle of poverty and that of children,” Policy Advocate Jessica Bartholow said. “This bill is on the Floor of Assembly, and if passed by Governor Jerry Brown it will provide financial support and medical access to all newborns whose parents are on CalWORKS.”
Upon hearing the stories of other prestigious legal advocates of welfare policies, student participants reported to their designated lobby team inspired and ready to lobby for one of the three proposed bills. These bills include the Restorative Justice Bill that would remove the word “crime” from punishment and provide educational and rehabilitative opportunities to all inmates, not just non-violent felony offenders and those with short sentences. The other two bills included the Repeal of the Maximum Family Grant in CalWORKs and the SSI/SSP Grant Increase and Restoration of the Cost-Of-Living-Adjustment that both concern the well-being of families in poverty.
Sophomore Justina Chock, an aspiring social worker, felt inspired by her experiences of advocating for the SSI/SSP Grant Increase and Restoration of the Cost-Of-Living-Adjustment, a cause that has directly affected her family.
“Funding needs to be implemented because there are so many individuals who are either disabled, blind or elderly who depend on this income to survive,” Chock said. “Without this cost-of-living adjustment there is no way people can survive off of 123 a month. My grandmother who is elderly and disabled has struggled both financially and emotionally because of her situation and this just breaks my heart. I really hope this bill passes.”
Navarette felt lucky to be among other fellow social workers who want to make a difference in their communities. “Being in that room with 1400 other social workers and feeding off of their energy and passions really gave me hope in our generation of change,” Navarette said.
Although senior and kinesiology major Amber Gonzales is not a fan of politics, she found she loved the event and all it had to offer to students here at Whittier College, especially those pursuing a career in Social Work.
“Even though I am a Kinesiology major and nutrition minor, I was truly able to apply knowledge when it came to advocating for the Maximum Family grant, because child malnutrition is a serious consequence of poverty,” Gonzales said. “To be the voice and lobby for the bills [SB23, SSP/SSI COLA, and AB2590] was the greatest privilege Whittier has ever bestowed upon me. I really took home with me what speaker Marika Ysamada [Democratic assemblywoman] said which was, ‘do not let pride divide,’ organize yourselves for the common good and fight for social justice together.”