July 2000, Issue 6-3
Welfare Workers Lobby Sacramento
To fully implement the findings of the SB 2030 report, the state would have to nearly double the budget for child welfare from $800 million to $1.6 billion. According to the National Association of Social Workers there are presently about 6,500 social worker positions budgeted for the year 2000. To meet the minimal state and federal standards would require over 13,700 social workers. To provide optimal services and really make a difference in the lives of California children and families, almost 18,000 social workers would be needed.
Approximately 150 social workers went to Sacramento to lobby legislators, asking for an additional $60 million above last year's $40 million budget augmentation. "The show of solidarity of social workers from all over the state was really exciting. Even workers who hadn't been active in the union got involved," states emergency response supervisor and Los Angeles County Chapter president Paula Gamboa. "Our message was that if the state is committed to providing quality services to families, then they need to pay attention to the study and lower caseloads."
"We all had a common goal of reducing caseloads so we can have the time to intervene to help families in crisis," reports Monterey County social worker Alice Talavera. "That is what we went to school for. I get really passionate about my profession. We can really make an impact and keep families together and children out of the system, but it is very crucial to have the time to work with families one on one. That is what social work is about, but with the present caseloads we have gotten away from that."
"The legislators have no clue what social workers really do, because they are not on the front lines," states Monterey social worker Ed Ackron, who worked as an intern for Tom Bates when Bates was in the Assembly. "People have the perception that we are baby snatchers. They don't understand the horrible situations we have to deal with. They are in denial about how bad the situation is. So we have to explain it to them."
"It was very inspirational, meeting all the government officials," states Santa Clara County social worker Andrea Schulz. It was her first trip to Sacramento. "We had a good team and were well prepared, and got a positive response from the aides we talked with, Democrat and Republican alike. At the Senate Budget Subcommittee hearing, it was clear that as the legislators were talking to each other, they were gearing it to us. There was a lot of give and take, a lot of talk about child welfare issues. We would cheer them and they would respond positively," she adds.
As the hearing dragged on with committee business, the social workers were about to leave and come back. But when the chair, Hilda Solis, saw the workers about to leave, she asked them to stay and moved the agenda so that they could speak. With that gesture, the workers realized that the legislators took their presence and testimony very seriously. Local 535 statewide first vice president Janet Atkins, Children's Services Committee chair Geoff Stephen, and Local 535 field representative Wren Bradley testified to the subcommittee.
"When the subcommittee voted to pass the budget increases, the room broke out in cheers," Schulz recalls with joy. "I even saw people crying in relief and saying, thank God, thank God. Senator Ray Haynes was the only one who voted against the budget increase."
After leaving the Budget Subcommittee, workers lobbied individual legislators.
The Budget Subcommittee agreed to an additional $60 million as well as continuation of the $40 million budget augmentation of last year, but Governor Davis reduced the additional amount to $35 million. The governor noted that counties had spent only 40% of the augmentation from last year. The legislature attempted to increase the amount, but the governor stood firm. At first social workers were disappointed, but then it was pointed out that increased funding by the state will bring down an additional $57 million in federal matching money, so that when you add the $40 million carried over from last year, the additional $35 million in the state budget, and the $57 million federal money, the total increase will be $132 million.
"The Local 535 social workers who lobbied the state capitol have a lot to celebrate," declared SEIU State Council legislative advocate Michelle Castro. The legislators really heard the message, and although they didn't give social workers everything they wanted, it is a big step forward. Castro explains, "When you consider that counties like Los Angeles are sitting on millions of dollars from last year because they can't find social workers to hire, you realize that $132 million is more than the counties are likely to spend. The problem is there are not enough social workers. Local 535 needs to really press counties to hire workers right away and see to it that money gets used for caseload reductions. If the money is not used, then the legislature will be reluctant to give more next year," Castro warns. "We need a public awareness campaign like the one for teachers. We need to encourage people to become social workers, and encourage universities to expand their MSW programs. California colleges graduate the same number of MSWs per year as they did 20 years ago. That has to change, or all the money in the budget to hire social workers won't matter," Castro concludes.