As Congress looks to trim $2.4 trillion from the country's budget over the next decade, it's an especially important time for psychologists to reach out to their legislators to advocate for federal psychology initiatives such as the Graduate Psychology Education program, said speakers at the annual Education Advocacy Breakfast held during APA's 2011 Annual Convention.
"Everything is on the table in this process," said legislative consultant Brent Jaquet, a senior vice president at the lobbying firm CRD Associates in Washington, D.C.
He applauded psychology leaders for visiting their lawmakers as part of the convention on 2011 PsycAdvocate Day (see article, page 72) at a time when legislators from both parties are thinking about which government-funded programs are most worth preserving.
"At some point, [Congress's super committee] will start killing whole programs rather than bleeding everything to death," said Jaquet. "It's so important that you all went to the Hill and are reinforcing such programs at this time."
The outlook for GPE—the only federal program dedicated to psychologists' education and training—is relatively good, said Jaquet. "We could be 'held harmless,' and that's the definition of winning in Washington right now."
It's also a crucial time for supporting the reauthorization of the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, said Kate Mevis, a legislative aide to Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.). Mevis has worked closely with APA's Education Government Relations Office staff on the legislation, which funds a campus suicide prevention grants program, a state and tribal grants program to prevent suicide and a technical assistance center that deploys experts on youth suicide prevention to schools and health departments across the country. The legislation supports mental health and substance use disorders services and suicide prevention programs on college campuses and authorizes funds for the education and training of mental health service providers for college campuses. The legislation to reauthorize the act calls for $4 million more than the original law allowed in 2004—$2 million for state grants and $2 million for campus grants.
"Training is something that we want to encourage," Mevis said. "We need more qualified individuals working with young adults on college campuses to make sure they are able to complete their studies and have a successful career."
While the climate of spending cuts may impede reauthorization, said Mevis, the bill has support in Congress.
"Everyone understands that youth suicide prevention is important," said Mevis. "It's largely been a non-contentious program to get funded and in this environment I think we are pretty lucky."
But the program will fare best if psychologists can continue to stay involved and reach out to their legislators and encourage their colleagues to do the same, she said.
"We can't do it without you," she said.
Ask your legislator to co-sponsor the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act Reauthorization of 2011.