Feature

Despite a chilly post-Sept. 11 budget climate, APA has successfully fought for the first-ever federal program to solely support psychology education and training.

Federal funding for this Graduate Psychology Education (GPE) program was approved by Congress in December. Housed in the Bureau of Health Professions, it will support programs that train health service psychologists to work with underserved populations, such as older persons, children, rural communities, victims of terror and abuse, and people with disabilities or chronic illnesses.

Funds, awarded through competitive grants, will go to APA-accredited doctoral, internship or postdoctoral residencies, to use for trainee stipends, faculty and curriculum development, demonstration programs and technical assistance.

Not only does GPE give a financial boost to training programs and the underserved, but it lends new federal credence to psychology, says APA Executive Director for Education Cynthia Belar, PhD. "This is bigger than just $2 million," she says. "It's the recognition of psychology as worthy of federal money for education and training and as a health profession. The language specific to health-service psychologists is very significant."

Winning the $2 million was no small feat, says Evan Knisely, the Van Scoyoc Associates consultant who worked with APA on the project. Not only had a tax-cutting President Bush intended to cut monies from the bureau, but defense and security have become the budget priorities following the terrorist attacks.

As such, it took persistent work from APA staff and several key legislators, particularly Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.), to gain start-up funding for the program. In fact, notes Knisely, it was one of a select few new programs funded by Congress during a difficult budget year.

A funding first

Also significant is the program's place in the Health Resources and Services Administration's Bureau of Health Professions, "the agency that determines which health professions get national attention," says Nina Levitt, EdD, APA's director for education policy. Winning this recognition required a yearlong campaign on APA's part.

The effort started in January 2001, and the focus was the House Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Appropriations bill, which determines bureau funding. First APA drafted proposed language for adding GPE to the bill, and, soon after, APA members and staff repeatedly visited key players on congressional appropriations committees.

APA advocates pointed out to committee members the lack of federal support for psychology training relative to other health professions, such as nursing, dentistry, physical therapy, chiropractic and physicians assistants. In arguing for psychology funding, advocates noted psychology's role in addressing pressing national problems and the need for integrated health treatment that includes psychology.

Among those active in presenting the information and winning congressional support for the program were APA members Herb Goldstein, PhD, of St. Petersburg, Fla., and Bob Devies, PhD, of Alliance, Ohio. For his part, Goldstein found a champion in Bill Young, chair of the House Committee on Appropriations. In every legislative stage, Young pushed for $2 million for psychology, even as members sought to cut from the unwieldy bill.

Goldstein, a private practitioner who chairs the Florida Department of Health's Board of Psychology, says Young supported GPE--as he has previous psychology education initiatives--because he deeply respects the field of psychology, and understands the importance of mental and behavioral health and integrated health care.

"Young is a discriminate individual who supports worthwhile, intelligent legislation," says Goldstein. "He supports psychology because psychology makes sense." He adds that gaining such backing from members of Congress takes ongoing effort on the part of psychologists. "Advocacy doesn't happen overnight. There needs to be follow-through."

Meanwhile, Devies reached out to Ralph Regula (R-Ohio), chair of the House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, meeting with his staff in person and by telephone. In particular, Devies emphasized psychology's lack of federal support compared with other health professions.

What's next

In the years ahead, APA's advocacy team wants to expand the GPE program to $20 million. First, though, it must wait for the program to be established, which may not happen for many months.

It will take time for the funding to funnel to the agency and for employees to set it up, explains Knisely. For example, they will need to determine criteria for awarding the funding-- "a process we hope will be in consultation with APA, allowing APA to give good suggestions," he says.

Moreover, in the months ahead, APA staff will need psychologists' advocacy help to keep the program going, and, hopefully, to expand it, says Levitt. "To get increases, we have to go for it, year after year," she says.

To join APA's education advocacy efforts, sign up for its Public Policy Advocacy Network (PPAN) by e-mailing us.