In the Public Interest

Promoting efforts to apply the science and practice of psychology to advance human welfare and social justice is critical to maintaining the vibrancy and value of our profession. In the Public Interest (PI) Directorate, we work to ensure that psychological knowledge is used and disseminated in ways that promote equal opportunity and foster empowerment for those who do not share equitably in society's resources. Essential to our success is a strong and focused commitment to affect public policy.

The PI Public Policy Office (PI-PPO) is actively engaged in shaping federal policy to promote psychology's role in addressing a range of issues that directly influence the lives of children, youth and families; women; individuals with HIV/AIDS; those with disabilities; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons; ethnic minorities; and older adults. Our staff is also involved in legislative and regulatory activities related to influencing media and telecommunications, disaster response, veterans' health and violence prevention.

Activities the office engages in on a daily basis include the preparation of legislative background materials, statutory provisions and formal comments on proposed legislation and regulations. Since APA members are our most knowledgeable and influential advocates on these issues, PI-PPO makes it a priority to mobilize and train members to actively participate in grassroots advocacy efforts. Psychologists provide powerfully compelling testimony at congressional hearings and briefings, and represent the association on federal agency advisory councils and at executive branch meetings. Additionally, PI-PPO administers the APA Congressional Fellowship Program, in which four to six psychologists spend a year on the staff of a member of Congress or congressional committee. A year-long public policy internship program for two psychology graduate students is also offered annually.

Advocacy successes

Recently, PI-PPO staff spearheaded a successful effort to include key provisions of the Positive Aging Act in legislation to reauthorize the Older Americans Act. As a result of these efforts, the legislation passed by Congress included the creation of a competitive state grant program for the delivery of mental health screening and treatment services for older adults. It also authorizes grants to promote awareness and reduce stigma regarding mental disorders in later life, and includes favorable provisions related to family caregiving, elder abuse and neglect, and long-term care.

PI-PPO has long been advocating for the Child Health Care Crisis Relief Act, a bill to address the critical national shortage of child mental health professionals. During consideration of the College Access and Opportunity Act, the House passed an amendment to provide loan forgiveness to "child or adolescent mental health professionals" in an effort to encourage individuals to pursue careers in this area. Our staff successfully engaged APA members in grassroots advocacy efforts through action alerts and continues to conduct Capitol Hill visits to push for passage of the bill in its entirety.

The office has worked diligently to urge the inclusion of provisions related to mental and behavioral health and psychology in the research, services and training sections of the Minority Health Improvement and Health Disparity Elimination Act, which is designed to improve the health and health care of racial and ethnic minorities and other underserved populations. APA's grassroots efforts also helped to defeat the federal Marriage Protection Amendment bill by a Senate vote of 49-48. The bill would have amended the U.S. Constitution to define marriage as the union between a man and a woman, thereby denying same-sex couples the many legal benefits of marriage.

The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Modernization Act of 2006 provides essential health care services to people living with HIV/AIDS and training for health-care professionals in HIV/AIDS care and treatment. This legislation, which was approved by the House of Representatives in September and the Senate in December, included APA-supported provisions to retain mental health and substance abuse services as "core medical services," to ensure psychologist eligibility for AIDS Education Training Centers, to preserve the Minority AIDS Initiative and to collect client-level data of mental health and substance abuse treatment needs in the Special Projects of National Significance grant program.

Join our efforts

PI-PPO represents the largest and most visible national presence advocating for psychology in the public interest. Through this office, APA maintains a close liaison with decision-makers on Capitol Hill and in the federal agencies, working with other professional societies, organizations and coalitions to advance common policy interests that impact the lives of the constituencies we serve. I invite you to join us by engaging in public policy activities that will help shape and advance federal policy to promote psychology in the public interest. For additional information about the work of our policy office, call (202) 336-6062 or e-mail.