Letter to the Editor: May 7, 2016

To all my fellow Poets,

On April 16th, some Poets made their way to the state’s capitol of Sacramento for the National Association of Social Workers’ Lobby Days event to advocate for three very important topics. SOWK364 (Social Welfare Policy and Services), a social work class led by Professor Gretchen Heidemann, has been preparing for this event all semester. Lobby Days is a weekend in Sacramento in which students from social work schools all over our state attend a conference and advocate for social justice by meeting with their elected representatives and making valid arguments for three different pieces of legislation.

This year, two important bills and a budget item were on the agenda: Senate Bill 23, Assembly Bill 2590, and allocations to the state budget for the SSI/SSP Program. What are these pieces of legislation and why are these important, you may ask? Well, they may affect you or loved ones, and it is your right to be informed.

SB23: CalWORKS is a bill that, if passed, will repeal the CalWORKS Maximum Family Grant, which currently limits government assistant for families who have additional children while already receiving welfare assistance from the state. This bill would provide additional benefits in the amount of $122 for families to support their newborns. It would also restore privacy to women who are victims in cases of incest/rape, as they currently must disclose this information in order to be exempt from the cap. This bill is important because research shows that the cap does not deter welfare recipients from having more children. While the cap is intended to regulate the behavior of parents, it is the children who end up suffering when their parents are unable to provide for their basic needs. As social workers and community members who care about impoverished families, we felt that it was our ethical duty to advocate for these at-risk children.

AB2590: Restorative Justice removes the word “punishment” from Penal Code Section 1170 and promotes greater opportunities for rehabilitation and education to those convicted of certain crimes. If passed, this bill would permit judges to have greater discretion in determining an appropriate sentence for individuals who commit a crime. This bill is important for us to consider because is provides the opportunity for a second chance – something we deeply value in social work – and it could potentially save the state money in reduced incarceration costs.

Lastly, the students lobbied to increase the state’s budget allocation for the SSI/SSP Program in order to bring the program back to pre-2009 levels and add a cost of living adjustment (COLA) so the program keeps pace with inflation. The SSI/SSP Program provides income assistance to blind and disabled elderly persons and children. This bill would affect 72,000 disabled people in our state who need this program in order to cover their basic living expenses. Without a greater allocation for the program in our state’s budget, many of these individuals will go hungry or even become homeless. Members of our class felt that it was important to advocate for this vulnerable population, as they should not have to live in poverty due to a disability that is out of their control.

Throughout the semester leading up to Lobby Days, Professor Heidemann and the students of SOWK364 spent their time learning about the pieces of legislation, discussing them, and considering why these issues are important to them as individuals and future social workers. They prepared talking points and posters, and role-played lobbying their state legislators. Once in Sacramento, each student was assigned a State Senator or Assembly person, and, with a group, visited his or her office to lobby for the three issues .

The class would like to invite you to join their efforts! It is not too late to contact your elected representatives and ask them to support these three important issues. You can do so by visiting http://findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov/ and sending a letter or email to your State Senator and Assembly person asking them to support SB23, AB2590, and an increase to the state’s budget for the SSI/SSP Program. You can also visit www.naswca.org and click the Lobby Days link to learn more about the issues.

The work our fellow Poets did in Sacramento did not go unnoticed; they participated in something important and left their mark on the steps of State Capitol. I hope you will join them and do the same by contacting your elected representatives and asking them to support these bills. Thank you Poets, for advocating in what you believe is right, and for representing Whittier College!

Keep informed Poets, be advocates!

Sincerely,

SOWK 364