Now more than ever, as a cash-strapped Congress confronts tough budget choices, two key psychology-training programs are at risk. That's why it's critical for psychologists and their supporters to champion their cause on Capitol Hill, said Nina Levitt, EdD, the associate executive director of APA's Education Government Relations Office. Levitt made her remarks before a crowd of nearly 100 APA members and other colleagues participating in the 2011 PsycAdvocate Day, held Aug. 4 in conjunction with APA's 2011 Annual Convention.
Levitt's speech rallied the participants as they departed from the Grand Hyatt to Capitol Hill for face-to-face meetings with members of Congress and their staffs to advocate for continued funding of the Graduate Psychology Education (GPE) Program and the Minority Fellowship Program (MFP), two key psychology workforce development programs that APA has long supported.
APA's Education and Public Interest Government Relations Offices, in conjunction with the association's Continuing Education Programs Office, spearheaded the event. In a morning session APA staff gave a multimedia presentation explaining the federal legislative and budgetary processes and the importance of the MFP and GPE programs, which provide critical opportunities for psychology trainees to serve underserved populations.
APA also briefed the participants on the most effective advocacy techniques and conducted interactive role-playing exercises to prepare participants for their Capitol Hill visits.
"The APA convention in Washington, D.C., offered an ideal venue for the association to train our members in the basics of policy and prepare them to advocate for two key programs making positive contributions to the field of psychology and the larger society," said Diane Elmore, PhD, associate executive director of the Public Interest Government Relations Office "Simply put, we need APA members and the larger mental health community to make the case to their own members of Congress that these programs are fiscally prudent and vital to serving the needs of underserved populations."
APA's Education Government Relations Office was instrumental in GPE's creation and subsequent authorization in Congress. GPE students work with fellow health-care professionals and provide integrated services to older adults, children, those with chronic illnesses, and victims of abuse and trauma. The program, which extends grants to 20 accredited doctoral psychology training programs, universities and hospitals, is currently funded at $3 million.
MFP provides 25 psychology doctoral and postdoctoral fellows with financial support, mentorship and training in delivering services and conducting research with ethnic-minority populations. The program is funded at $3.7 million.
But like many discretionary programs, funding for the GPE and MFP programs is under increased risk of budget cuts due to the federal debt crisis. Just two days before the event, Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed into law legislation aimed at temporarily resolving the debate over raising the nation's debt ceiling and calling for $917 billion in cuts over the next 10 years.
The coming cuts to federal discretionary spending—which fund both the GPE program and the MFP—led many staffers to express only cautious support for the programs' futures, said PsycAdvocate Day participant Carola SuÃ¡rez-Orozco, PhD, a professor of applied psychology at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development and co-director of immigration studies at New York University.
"Our constituent meetings were helpful in putting GPE and MFP on the radar screen of the legislative staffers," said SuÃ¡rez-Orozco. "Once they learned about these programs they were inclined to support them. Their hearts were in them ... but they made it clear that in this climate they were going to have to fight for any kind of funding."
William Martinez, a clinical child psychology doctoral student from DePaul University in Chicago, used his visits with legislators to share his firsthand account of how the MFP is boosting his community and his own professional growth. Martinez, an MFP fellow, through the support the MFP program affords him, is delivering bilingual assessments to Latino youth eligible for Medicaid in the Chicago area, some of whom are facing long wait times for assessments conducted with a bilingual interviewer, he said.
As one of seven students who received a scholarship through the APA Public Interest Caucus to attend PsycAdvocate Day, Martinez said he appreciated the opportunity to participate in the workshop and corresponding visits with policymakers. "I never thought about going to the Senate or contacting my representative because I didn't think they would listen, or care," Martinez said. "But they did. I'm glad APA offers this unique type of training."
PsycAdvocate Day, which is similar to other advocacy training APA offers, proved particularly productive for psychology this year. In total, during a four-hour span on Capitol Hill, PsycAdvocate participants from 25 states met with 109 U.S. Senate and House of Representatives offices.
"These results speak for themselves," said Gwendolyn P. Keita, PhD, executive director of the Public Interest Directorate. "Our association could not have asked for a better turnout and a more dedicated group of individuals to take our message forward to Congress in order to protect these important programs. The training of our membership is an important component in building a strong grassroots network that can make a positive impact in shaping public policy as it relates to psychology."
Cynthia D. Belar, PhD, executive director of APA's Education Directorate agreed. "The success of the workshop is truly indicative of the level of commitment our membership has to ensuring that there are future opportunities for psychology trainees to make a difference in their communities," she said.