by Deona Hooper, MSW
It seems social workers fulfilling their thirst for politics, community organizing, and activism on social issues are back on the rise. I recently had the opportunity to interview Tanya Roberts, one of North Carolina’s own rising stars, in order to learn more about her activities in politics. According to the National Association of Social Workers- North Carolina Chapter’s (NASW-NC) website, Tanya served as President on their Board of Directors until she was recently appointed to the association’s Political Action for Candidate Elections (PACE) Board of Trustees at the national level. In addition to her service with the NASW, Tanya also sits on the Board of Directors for Craven County Department of Social Services in New Bern, North Carolina. As a policy wonk and political junkie myself, it was a pleasure to interview Tanya who I can definitely see holding public office on the state or federal level. As of a result of the past election, North Carolina’s State legislature is now being controlled by a Republican super-majority which means both the House and Senate has a Republican majority along with a Republican Governor. Currently, Republicans have nothing standing in way of passing their legislative agenda. Tanya and I discussed a range of topics from her background to entitlement reform and medicaid expansion.
SWH: Could you tell us about your background and what attracted you into the field of social work?
Tanya: My Dad has his MSW and served in the Air Force working with service members, families, and children. Since I grew up in this world while traveling the world, I assumed this was my goal as well. Once I earned my MSW from East Carolina University, I quickly realized that my area of expertise was NOT in the clinical arena and began to explore other ways to bring social work into other parts of our community. For about seven years, I owned a private agency providing mentors to work with adults and children with developmental disabilities and/or mental health issues. This was an incredible opportunity to learn about my community and to bring my social work interests to others. Now I am coordinating NC Operation Medicine Cabinet and coordinating the NC PACCs (Partnerships, Alliances, Coalitions and Collaboratives) working on substance abuse prevention issues. This allows me the opportunity to address issues relevant to the world of prevention with a social work view.
SWH: With your recent appointment to the NASW (PACE), could you explain what the committee does and what kind of impact it wants to have in politics?
Tanya: The NASW PACE makes decisions about which candidates to endorse for national offices and how much to contribute. Candidates must support NASW’s policy agenda. Due to the requirements, PACE hopes to encourage those running for federal offices to be aware of our agenda, advocate for what we as social workers so strongly support and to back this up by making a financial contribution to their campaign. It is a public endorsement to highlight our national position as well as to participate in the election process as an Association.
SWH: Have or will NASW considered doing any collaborations with organizations like Emily’s List that help identify women interested in politics to run for public office?
Tanya: I don’t know if National has any plans to, or has in the past made plans to, collaborate with organizations like Emily’s List. I am certainly interested in helping to facilitate any such work; getting women (especially women social workers) involved in the political process is a goal of mine. On a statewide level, there is not only an interest, but some initial dialogues going on to do just this. We hope to find the best way to engage women social workers in public policy, especially in North Carolina.
SWH: Also, as a board member of a North Carolina Social Service Agency, are there any concerns about how Entitlement Reforms may impact human service agency’s ability to provide quality services to vulnerable populations with all the demands for budget cuts?
Tanya: I am especially concerned about our most vulnerable populations while maintaining the integrity of the system. We try to ensure that those who need services get the services they need, and those who are fraudulently accessing services are prosecuted. Also, I really want to see social workers more engaged in developing innovative ways to work with individuals and families to move them from public assistance to self-supporting means. This may well take longer than we would like given the economic situation, but it can and must be a focus of all social workers and all public assistance agencies.
SWH: With the implementation of Medicaid Expansion and North Carolina’s recent decision to refuse the additionally funding, what is your take on what this could mean for North Carolinians?
Tanya: I personally advocated to our new Governor, Pat McCrory, as well as to my local representatives to please allow for the expansion of Medicaid. In these difficult times, we cannot afford to cut off people in need. I would like to see our leaders work to gain a better understanding of what the poverty level is, how people work multiple jobs to support families, and the challenges of accepting public assistance because you don’t earn enough to pay your own way. People have tremendous pride and many receiving services want nothing more than to be self-sufficient. It is these people we must reach out to and help to provide supports for transition. But, this can only be done with the availability of appropriate paying jobs, opportunity to access and endeavor to succeed in such jobs and willingness of our leaders to work with the agencies to effect significant policy change.
SWH: With your resume and activism in politics, have you considered or will you consider making a run for federal office at some point in your future?
Tanya: Now that I have run for a county office, I am certainly more interested in the campaign process. I am a Fellow of the Institute for Political Leadership (IOPL) and a graduate of the NC Center for Women in Public Service, Women in Office training. These opportunities provided tremendous education, resources, contacts and encouragement! At this point, I am not sure if actually being the candidate is using my skills best or supporting another candidate. Either way, I will be very involved in politics and working to bring in social workers and women to the process.
NASW encourages social workers to run for office because social workers are a profession of trained communicators with concrete ideas about how to empower communities. Social workers understand social problems and know human relations, and the commitment to improving the quality of life brings a vital perspective to public decision-making. NASW