Government Relations Update

On Sept. 18, members of APA's Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest (BAPPI) and its committees fanned out across Capitol Hill to advocate on behalf of legislative priorities critical to APA, including child abuse prevention, postpartum depression, employment nondiscrimination and respite care.

Organized by APA Public Interest Government Relations Office staff (PI-GRO), the advocacy training provided APA members a look at the importance of grassroots advocacy and the opportunity to impact the legislative process.

"Engaging with our membership in this way," says Annie Toro, JD, MPH, associate executive director of PI-GRO, "is crucial to advance the association's advocacy goals and its overall mission."

The advocacy day began at APA headquarters, where staff gave an overview of the legislative process and discussed ways to structure a request to Congress. Divided according to their choice of legislative topic, APA member participants also were briefed on specific issues related to the following legislative priorities: Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA); the Melanie Blocker-Stokes Mom's Opportunity to Access Health, Education, Research, and Support for Postpartum Depression Act (MOTHERS Act); the Employment Nondiscrimination Act; and the Lifespan Respite Care Act.

The group then reconvened for final preparations for their meetings with congressional members and staff. This included time for run-throughs, role-playing, and one-on-one coaching with members of PI-GRO. Members then set out to put their knowledge of the science and practice of psychology to work on Capitol Hill.

Participants from BAPPI, the Committee on Children, Youth, and Families, the Committee on Disability Issues in Psychology, and the Committee on Women in Psychology (CWP) advocated on behalf of CAPTA and the MOTHERS Act.

CAPTA is the key federal legislation addressing child abuse and neglect and is expected to be reauthorized in the 111th Congress. Advocacy day participants discussed with congressional representatives APA's recommendations for the reauthorization, which include provisions related to the definition and prevention of child abuse and neglect; children and families with disabilities; children from birth to age five in the child welfare system; interagency collaboration between child protective services and domestic violence services; and cultural competence.

Participants also urged their senators to support the MOTHERS Act, which would help ensure that women at risk for or with postpartum depression are provided adequate and timely prevention and mental health services. This bill passed in the House late last year. Members who advocated on behalf of CAPTA and the MOTHERS Act included Thema Bryant-Davis, PhD, Helen Coons, PhD, Don Daughtry, PhD, John Hagen, PhD, Anita Thomas, PhD, and Karen Wyche, PhD.

Members of BAPPI, APA's Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns, the Committee on Socioeconomic Status and CWP participated in discussions and meetings related to the Employment Nondiscrimination Act. This legislation extends federal protections against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation but does not include gender identity. APA members asked the senators' staff to take up this critical legislation, which was approved by the House of Representatives in October 2007. Members also asked that the senators include language that would protect transgender individuals. APA members who advocated for this legislation included Randall Ehrbar, PsyD, Kristin Hancock, PhD, Alicia Lucksted, PhD, Sukie Magraw, PhD, and Jane Simoni, PhD.

Another group of APA members advocated on behalf of funding for the Lifespan Respite Care Act. This act was signed into law in 2006 and authorizes up to $53.3 million to assist family caregivers in accessing affordable and high-quality respite care. Unfortunately, this program has yet to receive any federal funding. APA members visited key legislative offices in the House of Representatives to urge support for full funding for the law. Participants who advocated on this issue included Merla Arnold, PhD, Lydia Buki, PhD, Heather Bullock, PhD, Chandra Mehrotra, PhD, and Barbara Palombi, PhD.

APA's PI-GRO staff conducts these advocacy trainings twice a year to bolster the ranks of psychologists who bring a legislative perspective to bear on their research and practice.

"This is about more than having APA members go to the Hill," says Toro. "Our hope is that our members will talk about the importance of advocacy with their colleagues, students, and people in their communities and become lifelong advocates themselves."

Micah Haskell-Hoehl is a policy associate in APA's Public Interest Government Relations Office.