Within the next year, between 500,000 and 1 million childless adults without disabilities will be dropped from their SNAP, or food stamp, benefits. A three-month time limit exists on benefits for this population, which has been in place since the welfare reform legislation in 1996. Currently, childless adults aged 18-49 without disabilities are the only population subject to this time limit.
The reasons that single, childless adults find themselves on food stamps are varied, as is the group itself. Some of these individuals are chronically homeless, stuck deeply in a cycle of poverty that could feel impossible to break. However, many of them are working, but in either low wage or unstable jobs because their income is either quite low or sporadic. It can be difficult to sustain a stable budget, which leads to the need for SNAP and other forms of assistance.
The welfare reform package of 1996 included a work provision that has made it more difficult for many groups to remain on assistance, even if their income has not increased. During the great recession, which started in 2007 and has had lasting impacts on the economy since, many states received a waiver from the federal government that temporarily allowed benefit recipients to remain in the program while the economy stabilized. Now that the economy has improved, these waivers no longer apply.
The overarching goal of the 1996 welfare reform package was to provide incentives and assistance for people to find work. As a result of this, job training programs should be set up in most places, and many benefits can be kept for the duration of an unemployment period, as long as that individual is looking for work, willing to accept any kind of work that comes along, works less than twenty hours a week, or is in a job training program. While these provisions do apply to SNAP benefit recipients, if they cannot find a spot in a job training program or is working twenty one hours a week, they then become ineligible.
This will have hugely detrimental effects on both the individuals who lose their benefits and their wider community. Being subjected to deeper poverty and food insecurity will almost certainly effect the mental health of these individuals. Being anxious and/or depressed can make it more difficult to find and keep employment, and being unemployed can lead to feelings of anxiety and/or depression, creating a cycle that may feel impossible to break. Additionally, being hungry can make it more difficult to concentrate and impacts memory and overall cognitive functioning, all things that can make finding and keeping work more difficult.
As is often the case in politics, the three-month limit on food stamps for adults without children was not meant to cause long term, systemic harm. In theory, when the economy is strong, people will be able to find jobs that lift and keep them out of poverty and hunger. However, when these jobs are unstable, low-paying, or just plain unavailable, the ruling causes great harm to this population.
How To Win America’s Fight Against The Opioid Epidemic
Every day, an astonishing 115 Americans die from opioid overdoses, according to a 2017 report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Approximately half of these deaths are due to the misuse or abuse of prescription opioid painkillers (such as Vicodin, Oxycontin, and morphine). Beyond that, increasingly, deaths come from overdoses of the illicit drugs heroin and fentanyl, which are often used after people become addicted to or misuse prescription opioids.
Each day, more than 1000 people are sent to the emergency room for prescription opioid misuse. In many of these cases, opioids were used along with alcohol or medications meant to treat anxiety or seizures (such as Xanax, Ativan, and Valium). When people ingest such mixtures, they face a heightened risk of injury or death as their breathing slows or stops.
Effective treatments exist. But as treatment for over-dosing is increasingly available, treatment for addiction is still not accessible to many of those who need it. Access to effective treatments for opioid addiction is the missing piece in America’s unsteady fight against the opioid epidemic.
Success in Fighting the Opioid Epidemic
Gains in the fight against the opioid epidemic have been made on several fronts. The physicians and nurse practitioners who prescribe America’s medications are being trained to be more judicious in their use of opioids to treat pain. They are also learning to consider, whenever possible, non-opioid medications and other treatments that don’t come from a pharmacy at all. National guidelines have been established for methods of relieving surgical, cancer-related, and chronic pain without opioids. Taken together, all these efforts are saving lives and reducing the volume of prescription opioids that can be diverted to illicit uses.
Similarly, emergency first responders and trained laypeople now have tools to help prevent deaths from opioid overdoses. Lives have been saved in many communities by the administration of naloxone – a medication which blocks the effects of opioids on breathing centers and reverses overdoses.
But what happens after emergencies – or to prevent them? Treatments for addiction can reduce the likelihood that people addicted to opioids will overdose and die. And such treatments are vital because, like any other chronic illness such as diabetes or heart disease, untreated addiction becomes more severe and resistant to treatment over time.
The Missing Piece – Access
What most of America is sorely missing, however, is sufficient access to the addiction treatments that are the most effective – and not enough efforts are currently underway to increase such access. Currently, the best estimates suggest that only one out of every ten patients seeking drug abuse treatment can actually get into a program. To sharply reduce U.S. opioid deaths, proven forms of treatment should be readily available, on demand, to all who need them. Policymakers, civic leaders, patient advocates, and journalists, should consider the following steps:
- Treatment and reimbursements should be evidence-based. Research shows that the most effective approach is medication-assisted therapy (MAT), where patients are given methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone, alongside therapy to combat addiction. Too many private payers pay for treatments based on mistaken ideas. For example, detoxification is known to be highly ineffective against opioid addiction, yet it is widely practiced and reimbursed.
- Insurance and other reimbursement systems need to acknowledge that addiction is a chronic disease that almost never goes into remission after a one-time treatment. Treatment for addiction needs to be ongoing and long-term, just like treatments for diabetes or heart disease. But currently most health insurance companies will only cover one treatment episode or a fixed number of treatment days per year.
- Early, intensive treatment is the most effective and less costly over time. Currently, most insurance companies will only cover outpatient treatment for opioid addiction, and will only reimburse intensive inpatient treatment if the first effort fails. Evidence shows that in many cases, the opposite approach would work better: start with intensive treatment rather than with minor steps that allow time for the disease to progress.
- Many opioid addicts could be treated within America’s current primary care systems. Two effective medications, buprenorphine and naltrexone, can be prescribed by primary care providers. With appropriate waivers, for instance, a physician can treat up to 100 patients with buprenorphine.
- Medications need to be supplemented with therapy. Because most primary care clinicians do not have the resources or practice partners to provide the therapies patients need in addition to medications, they often limit the number of addicts they treat or avoid treating them altogether. The answer lies in making behavioral health providers more readily available to work with primary care providers, who could then prescribe effective medications more readily.
- Patients brought to hospitals for opioid addiction and overdose should be enrolled in therapy and other treatment on the spot. Many patients with opioid addiction end up in hospitals and emergency rooms. The current approach is to stabilize them medically and then tell them, as they are discharged, to seek further treatments. But many do not follow up or have adequate access to the help they need. A better approach would be to start treatment while addicts in crisis are at the hospital – and directly transfer them to an addiction treatment facility upon discharge.
- Jails and prisons are other places where opioid addicts need treatment. Efforts to bring medication-assisted therapy to the incarcerated could mitigate the larger opioid crisis – and also reduce the rate at which ex-inmates commit new offenses and cycle back to prison.
The bottom line is clear: Increasing access to proven treatments for all addicts who need them would save and improve countless lives, and effectively counter America’s current opioid crisis.
Read more in Peggy Compton and Andrew B. Kanouse, “The Epidemic of Prescription Opioid Abuse, the Subsequent Rising Prevalence of Heroin Use, and the Federal Response” Journal of Pain and Palliative Care Pharmacotherapy 29, no. 2 (2015): 102-114.
The Minnesota African American Family Preservation Act: One Small Step in the Right Direction Towards A More Just Child Welfare System
While most of the mainstream media has failed to report on this momentous piece of legislation created to address the inequities of systemic racism impacting child welfare reform and parental rights, Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, and Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis quietly introduced the Minnesota African American Family Preservation Act (HF 3973).
The bill was first introduced earlier this year with the explicit purpose of stopping the arbitrary removal of black children by the Minnesota Child Protection Division. The goal of the legislation is to address key racial biases and disparities while also seeking to extend better standards of care across the State’s child welfare system.
According to the Minnesota House of Representatives’ website, “a group of state lawmakers say those disparities are caused by widespread inequity across Minnesota’s child-protection system that includes how initial allegations are reviewed, how parents are screened and assessed and how incidents are resolved”.
The Minnesota African-American Family Preservation Act has the support of the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage, numerous leaders within the black community as well as African-American families directly impacted by the State’s arbitrary removal assessments. While there is no doubt there will be challenges for implementation or will right past injustices, this piece of legislation is one small step in the right direction. Minnesota has taken the first legislative step towards using policy to address structural racism within the child welfare system. Maybe, their courageous actions will inspire other lawmakers to follow and do the same in their states.
As a social justice and parental rights advocate, this story is a personal one and a triumph to see on many levels specifically because I was unjustly and unnecessarily removed from my mother in Saint Pauls when I was six years old. The removal was both retaliatory and racially (politically) motivated due to the fact my mother was a fearless and outspoken black woman trying desperately to address the blatant discrimination and racism blacks were experiencing in our neighborhood.
While in foster care, I experienced mental, physical, and emotional abuse, and very nearly died due to improper adult supervision or the lack therefore in my case. Although my mother did eventually get me and my younger sister back after two long and hard years of fighting in the Courts, she was never the same mentally or emotionally.
As a social work professional, I know now, my mother was very likely suffering from severe and untreated PTSD which is a very common diagnosis as a result of family disruption from a child removal. It wasn’t until many years later when I found myself in the very same position (having had to experience the same CPS induced hell), that I truly realized what my mother had to endure.
My experiences inspired my desire to become an advocate and prevent the above from needlessly happening to another family. Structural racism and discrimination are rampant and widespread within our nation, and our child welfare system is not exempt. Racism and discrimination within the child welfare system have directly lead to what some scholars and advocates have termed, the “cultural genocide” of the black family.
A Call to Action…
This bill is extremely important and needs all the help it can get in order to become law. Therefore, I’m calling upon advocates, families, and child welfare professionals everywhere to call and write the appropriate committees and/or legislators and tell them to support the Minnesota African-American Family Preservation Act.
If you’re ready to make a positive difference and combat the cultural genocide of African-American families all across the country, please call or write your representatives and request the African-American Family Preservation Act be introduced in your state.
Emotions and Politics: A Social Work Response to the Mental Health of Immigrants
Some of my clients have called their immigration journey, the immigration nightmare. One noted, “everyone talks about the American dream but nobody talks about the American nightmare.” This nightmare has become a real every day experience for many of them.
Children crying and terrified after a stranger, an immigration agent, separates them from their parents when they arrive at the US border. Young adults living in limbo in a life that feels uncertain to them, not knowing whether in a few years they will continue working where they are or studying their university programs because of the nature of their temporary Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
Parents worrying that if they get deported to their countries of origin their children will become foster kids because they will have to make a hard choice to leave them behind in the United States rather than to bring them back to countries plagued by violence, poverty, and hunger. Scholar and social worker Dr. Luis H. Zayas refers to these children, impacted by immigration policies of family separations, as the forgotten citizens.
These are just of the few stories that represent the plight that immigrants who are undocumented or have temporary status face in the United States. In the last year, we have seen increased political efforts to seize migration and punish immigrants who chose to migrate in the only way they could, creating feelings of insecurity, trauma, depression among community members affected by these policies.
As social workers, it’s crucial we become well-versed on the challenges that existing immigrants and a new generation of newcomers face and that we follow our National Association of Social Workers (NASW) code of ethics to support them and treat them with dignity and worth of a person regardless of how they arrived to this country, nor our political views.
Going Beyond the Headlines, Facts about Immigration
Over the last year, we have been inundated with countless stories of immigrants arriving in record numbers through the Mexican border. Some of the media stories have focused on the illegality of migrating through the border; other outlets have reported on the reasons why immigrants are knocking on our doors but with little emphasis on why immigrants “choose” to come through the border. Reasons for coming include fleeing violence, political unrest, and persecution among others.
From testimonials of lawyers, service providers, and human and immigrant’s rights organizations who are working profusely on the ground at border towns, we know that most of the immigrants who are arriving can qualify as refugees. Noting this difference is important because refugees seeking asylum have a right to seek asylum in the United States and have certain protections. The UN Refugee Agency defines refugee as “someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries,” (UN Refugee Agency, 2019).
We often hear questions like “Why can’t they come the right away?” or “They need to get in line?” The reality is that our immigration system is broken. To come to the United States legally, individuals have to either have a family member who is a Citizen or US Resident petition for them, or be sponsored by an employer through a work visa, most employment visas are usually for high skilled workers, or apply to a lottery system, for the “lucky” opportunity to obtain a visa. It sounds simple, right? Just apply and you should be fine. Not so much!
There is a restriction of the numbers of visas granted each year. According to the Migration Policy Institute, there are about 140,000 work visas per year and family sponsored preferences are limited to 226,000 visas per year. There are currently two types of backlogs impacting the issuance of US Resident cards, which allows people to come to the United States and stay permanently.
“The first is due to visa availability, not enough to go around and meet the demand. The second is due to processing delays of applicants’ documents. A brief illustration of that is that in February 2019, the U.S. government was still processing some family-sponsored visa applications dating to August 1995, and some employment-related visa applications from August 2007,” (Migration Policy Institute, 2019).
This means that a mother who is concerned that gang members have infiltrated her neighborhood, and are looking to extort her each month for a sum of money that she does not have or she and her family will be killed, who may not have a US Resident or Citizen family member or an employer to sponsor her, has no other way to enter the United States as a refugee seeking asylum. She and scores of others do not have another choice.
When working with immigrants is important to remember that while there are some similarities in the immigration journey for some, not two stories are alike. This is our opportunity to allow the client to be the expert of their story and have them guide us in their experience.
Community members who are in the United States without an immigration status or a temporary status or are seeking status may face many challenges as they adjust to a new environment or simply work towards surviving it. But their distress or trauma may not be new or their first trauma. Clinical psychologist Dr. Cecilia J. Falicov reminds us of the pre-trauma, during trauma and post-trauma immigrants can experience during their journey. Trauma sometimes begins before people leave their countries of origin. Understanding what their experience was prior to coming to the United States is critical during clinical or initial assessment or throughout work with clients.
Immigrants may experience trouble with acculturation, getting used to new norms, traditions, food, and language. Most importantly and often overlooked is the grief and loss they may experience for having left (or lost) a place they knew, friends, family members and things they are familiar to.
Aside from the trauma, kids who are separated from their parents may experience, attachment to their parent or caregiver may suffer, making it harder for them to have a healthy reunification at a later time.
Furthermore, immigrants may face discrimination, racial profiling or bullying in their community, at work or school, which can lead to stigma about immigration status or passing to hide their immigration status. They can experience abuse at work or exploration, such as earning low wages while working long hours. Perpetrators of abuse can threaten victims who are undocumented to call immigration authorities on them. Often times victims do not call for help out of fear of being deported and what they may not know is that there are actually certain protections for victims of violence or crime who are undocumented.
Immigrants may realize the limitations of their immigration status such as not being able to obtain driving licenses (some states do grant licenses to immigrants who are undocumented), not being able to obtain in-state tuition (some states have passed in-state tuition laws for students who are undocumented), not being able to travel and little or no access to services, resources or benefits.
These and other challenges can lead to depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which are the three main diagnoses that impact immigrants. And media news about immigration policies that may impact their life may exuberate symptoms.
While someone’s immigration status can represent a social determinant of health, not all immigrants want to address challenges regarding their status in their work with social workers right away or sometimes ever. Teenage immigrants sometimes just want to talk about dating; parents want to talk about parenting, DACA recipients want to talk about their dreams and aspirations. We must be mindful and respect the client’s self-determination and not impose our own agenda to address what we think the client “should” address and meet the client where they are at in their journey.
The Social Work Response
I propose a comprehensive approach to meeting the needs of our immigrant clients composed of clinical, psychoeducation or supportive services, mezzo (support groups) and advocacy. In my work with immigrant clients whose goal is to address their distress connected to their immigration status, I use a psychoeducational, skills building and processing approach where I incorporate:
Psychoeducation on the impact of politics in everyday life such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD; identifying feelings, emotions, behaviors, thoughts, and overall mental health symptoms.
Processing emotions, verbalization of feelings, normalization and validation through empathy, reflective listening, etc.
Skills building including stress and anxiety management, behavioral activation to combat depression, self-care, cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness (focusing on present moment and grounding). Strengths assessment and positive qualities. This activity entails helping clients re-discover or discover their strengths by reviewing all they have accomplished so far, including getting here. For many, the journey of getting here is a demonstration of determination, risk-taking, and survivorship.
Fostering a sense of safety, building safety plan (to address fears like “what if I get deported,” etc.)
Empowerment: gaining control over what we can control.
Building Awareness: providing know your rights information, connecting clients to local resources, and providing information analysis.
In addition to the work we can do through our own agencies or places of work, effective interventions include providing services for community members at their schools, churches, and community based organizations.
This requires us to partner with entities and cross collaborate. Not too long ago, several colleagues and I were going to schools to talk to immigrant parents about stress management. The local school system and the organization I worked at then formed a partnership to bring awareness during “drop off kids and coffee time.”
The clinical response and mezzo responses are just some ways of helping clients address their distress. But we know that our client’s distress is connected to environmental issues and as long as there isn’t a solution to that can aid the millions of lives impacted by the broken immigration system, our immigrant community currently in limbo will continue to suffer. This is when micro becomes macro. We have plenty of opportunities to engage right now on important fights including the passage of the DREAM and PROMISE ACT and decrying the family separations that are impacting children and are a form of children neglect and abuse. This is when we join together to fight for social justice as our NASW code of ethics calls us to do.
Falicov, C. J. (2014). Latino families in therapy (2nd ed.). New York, NY: The Gilford Press.
Zayas, L. H. (2015). Forgotten citizens: deportation, children and the making of american exiles and orphans. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Zong, J., Zong, J. B., Batalova, J., & Burrows, M. (2019, March 14). Frequently Requested Statistics on Immigrants and Immigration in the United States. Retrieved from https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/frequently-requested-statistics-immigrants-and-immigration-united-states
What is a Refugee? Definition and Meaning. Retrieved March 15, 2019, from https://www.unrefugees.org/refugee-facts/what-is-a-refugee/
Bass, Bacon Introduce Bipartisan Foster Youth Mentoring Act
WASHINGTON – Yesterday, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) introduced legislation to authorize funding to support mentoring programs that have a proven track record in serving foster youth. Rep. Bass and Rep. Bacon both serve as co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, which is a bipartisan group of lawmakers dedicated to improving the country’s child welfare system.
“It is critical that we raise awareness about the unique challenges youth in the system face,” Rep. Bass said. “In all of my years working with children in the child welfare system, meeting thousands of children either in or out of care, the number one thing I hear is that they want a consistent source of advice and support.
They want someone that will be there when it matters most and for all the moments in between. Many people think of mentors as something supplementary, but for these kids, sometimes it’s all they have. I’ve introduced this piece of legislation to not only showcase the importance of modernizing the child welfare system but also to raise awareness about this important national issue.”
“As the father of two adopted children who came into our home through foster care, I understand the need for foster youth to have the consistent support of a caring adult,” said Rep. Bacon. “I am thankful to join Rep. Bass in co-leading these efforts, as they will ensure adults will be able to be successful mentors who have a positive impact on the education, personal and professional challenges our foster youth go through every day.”
“Mentoring provides young people with the social capital, confidence, and support they need to thrive,” said David Shapiro, CEO of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership. “Far too often, young people in the foster care system experience adults coming in and out of their lives, without having a consistent presence of someone focused solely on them and their journey.
Research confirms that young people in foster care benefit from quality mentoring in a range of areas including mental health, education, peer relationships, placement, and life satisfaction. The Foster Youth Mentoring Act centers the critical role relationships can play for foster youth and provides proven mentoring programs with the resources they need to serve young people through evidence-based and culturally relevant practices.
MENTOR is thankful to Representative Bass and Representative Bacon for their bipartisan leadership to create policies and resources that incorporate the power of mentoring relationships into the child welfare system and ultimately, the lives of our young people.”
The bill comes one day before the 8th annual Foster Youth Shadow Day, an event hosted by the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth in which current and former foster youth from more than 30 states ranging from Alaska to Maine come to Washington, DC to shadow their Member of Congress. This year’s Shadow Day includes 130 delegates aged between 18 to 30. They have spent a combined 725 years in the child welfare system. The goal is to help Congress understand how to improve the child welfare system.
The bill authorizes funds for mentoring programs that are currently engaged in or developing quality mentoring standards in screening volunteers, matching process, and successful mentoring relationships. It will ensure that mentors are trained in child development, family dynamics, cultural competence, the child welfare system, and other important factors that enable long-lasting and strong relationships. The bill also increases coordination between mentoring programs, child welfare systems, and community organizations so that the systems serving young people are working together to help foster youth flourish.
Who Wants to Make a Macro Contribution to the United Nations?
Now is the time to contribute to one of the largest platforms on earth in order to implement changes that benefit all. For the first time, the 68th Annual UN Civil Society Conference is leaving United Nations Headquarters in New York City and heading to Salt Lake City, Utah August 26-28, 2019.
For those in the business of helping others, this is great news for travel affordability. This event has a history of heavy youth participation which promotes the intergenerational implementation of proposals and policy for sustainability.
If you’d simply like to attend, you can do so free of charge. Registration can happen at this link while spaces are still available.
To propose a workshop, please make sure the following criteria are included (there is a flat $300 fee for the venue/ room/ tech cost):
Inclusive, Safe, Resilient, Sustainable Cities and Communities (SDG11) and one of the following subjects:
- Economic Development
- Climate Change
- Peaceful Societies
- Youth Empowerment
- Emerging Technologies
- Women and Girls
- Media and Communication Methods
- Interfaith Dialogue
Workshop Application Criteria (please be sure that your workshop meets all the guidelines and requirements below):
- Workshops should be action-oriented with a focus on learning and innovation
- Each workshop will be 75 minutes long, with an additional 30 minutes for setup
- Workshops should highlight the work of/and include speakers from at least two or three organisations and demonstrate partnership
- Ensure that the session is interactive and includes the audience in the discussion
- It is suggested that the panel does not include more than 3 speakers and a moderator to ensure participation from the audience
Priority will be given to applications submitted by civil society organisations (CSOs) formally associated with the UN Department of Global Communications (DGC) and SLC/Utah-based CSOs
Proposals must be submitted in English: https://outreach.un.org/ngorelations/content/68th-un-civil-society-conference-call-workshops-applications-submit-proposal-17-may-2019
Scotland’s Vulnerable Witnesses Bill Unanimously Passes in Parliament – Victim Support Scotland reacts
Today (10 May 2019) legislation was passed in the Scottish Parliament to ensure more child witnesses are able to pre-record evidence ahead of a jury trial, preventing the traumatic experience of presenting in court.
The Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Bill aims to improve the quality of evidence given for the most serious offences.
In response, Kate Wallace, Chief Executive of Victim Support Scotland, commented:
“We welcome the passing of this Bill, which we believe is a crucial step forward in protecting and supporting children and families who have been involved in serious crime. It is well known – as we have seen through our own Witness Services from throughout Scotland – that the process of giving evidence in criminal trials can have adverse mental, physical and psychological effects on child witnesses.
“Victim Support Scotland agrees moving to pre-recorded evidence for child witnesses is one way of avoiding such trauma. Further to this, we believe that this should elicit better evidence from victims and witnesses of crime and outcomes for everyone involved in the justice sector.
“We are also heartened by the £2 million funding which the Scottish Government has committed to enabling the creation of a specialist evidence suite for children and vulnerable witnesses in Glasgow, as well as upgrades to support facilities in Inverness, Aberdeen and Edinburgh. Victim Support Scotland is looking forward to supporting this initiative on the ground as part of putting victims and witnesses first in Scotland’s criminal justice system.”
About Victim Support Scotland
Victim Support Scotland is an independent charity providing support and information services to around 200,000 victims and witnesses of crime in Scotland each year.
We manage a national helpline and community-based services in courts and every local authority area in Scotland. We also provide specialised training programmes and work to raise awareness of the impact of crime on individuals, communities and society.
We have around 130 paid staff and around 500 active volunteers, working from our 30 offices as well as 40 courts across the country. Our expenditure in 2017/18 was £4.5m with the majority of our funding coming from the Scottish Government and local authorities.
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