Public Policy Update

Did you know that in any given legislative year approximately 10,000 bills are introduced in the U.S. Congress? Only about 6 percent actually become law. But these laws govern every aspect of our lives, from communication to recreation, to transportation or education. Legislators' decisions truly have an everyday impact.

They rely on their constituents to let them know how federal policy will affect their local communities. Through constituent letters, phone calls and face-to-face meetings, legislators learn what's important to the "people back home." As former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill often said, "All politics is local."

And through organized grassroots activities, the people back home can speak with one voice for the greatest influence.

Strengthening psychology's voice

One way psychologists can increase their influence on Capitol Hill is through APA's Federal Education Advocacy Coordinators (FEDAC) Grassroots Network. Inaugurated in December 2001, FEDAC is a campus-based, nationwide education-advocacy grassroots network that assists APA's Education Directorate and Public Policy Office (PPO) education staff with efforts to gain federal support for psychology education and training. Although it is in its first years of development, the FEDAC network when fully completed will represent people from the full spectrum of psychology education and training--graduate, postgraduate, undergraduate and pre-college.

FEDAC is vital to the success of education-advocacy legislative initiatives. Thus, FEDAC regional coordinators are actively seeking psychology representatives on campuses and training sites across the nation. Currently, there are more than 150 campus-based training representatives, who promote and coordinate grassroots activities with their psychology faculty colleagues. In short, psychologists, students and faculty from hundreds of universities, colleges, professional schools and secondary schools have the potential to unite and become a powerful voice on Capitol Hill for psychology education and training.

The emphasis on grassroots development has made an enormous difference in the success of all our advocacy initiatives. The reality is, while studies and testimony can be powerful tools in persuading lawmakers to support a piece of legislation, messages and visits from the folks back home--especially when they represent a large number of potential voters--are what catches the attention of the members of Congress.

The bottom line in grassroots activity is identifying a "champion"--someone who will make psychology's issues a top priority. Thus, finding psychologists who are willing to meet with their members of Congress is one of the most important aspects of APA's advocacy efforts.

For those who do get involved, PPO staff makes sure the work isn't overwhelming. In fact, it may be no more than an hour every four to six months. When APA members assist APA with its advocacy initiatives, APA provides all the information needed--sample letters, talking points and background briefing sheets. Further, when members participate in Capitol Hill visits, APA staff meet with them in advance and accompany them on their visits.

Advocacy successes

Many of APA's legislative accomplishments would not have been possible without the support of psychologists across the country. For example, over the past three years, more than 200 psychologists have written letters, sent e-mails, made multiple phone calls and visited members of Congress urging their support for funding for the Graduate Psychology Education (GPE) Program--the first and only federal program solely dedicated to psychology education and training. GPE provides grants to APA-accredited doctoral, internship and postdoctoral programs in support of interdisciplinary training of psychology students for the provision of psychological services to underserved populations, such as older adults, children, the chronically ill and victims of abuse and trauma--especially in rural and urban communities.

Grassroots support has made a difference to the GPE program. Indeed, the program has continued a steady growth since its inception. Despite some of the worst budget battles in U.S. history, with many programs sustaining major cuts and others being eliminated, the GPE program has managed to grow or maintain its funding every year. Why? Because hundreds of psychologists are speaking out with one voice in support of the GPE program.

Grassroots activities have also been instrumental in gaining psychology's inclusion in key provisions of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Most recently, APA members were able to gain support for the College Care and Counseling Act (S. 2215; H.R. 3593), which was introduced in the U.S. Senate on March 12 by Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) and co-sponsored by Sens. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.). Reps. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.) and Tom Osborne (R-Neb.) introduced its counterpart (H.R. 3593) in the U.S. House of Representatives last November.

The bill brings national attention to the mental and behavioral health needs of students on college campuses (see page 46). With the support of grassroots involvement, these members of Congress have worked hand-in-hand with education PPO staff to draft the proposal submitted by APA. APA members developed every aspect of the language for this competitive grant program and worked closely with education PPO staff in responding to congressional questions regarding the needs at mental and behavioral health service centers on campuses around the country.

Grassroots is the foundation for any successful advocacy initiative. It is the No. 1 reason why legislators vote for or against pending or proposed bills. Thus, grassroots gives you an opportunity to help make a difference for psychology, for your students and for your community. So, the next time one of your colleagues asks you to write a letter, make a phone call or visit with your senator or representative on an issue of great importance to psychology, just say "yes." Don't be afraid of grass stains...join us!

Sheila Lane Forsyth is a consultant to APA's Education Public Policy Office.

Further Reading

For further information about education advocacy initiatives and grassroots activities, contact Amanda Ring at aring@apa.org.