Public Policy Update

Update on key legislative priorities: Part I

As this issue of the Monitor goes to press, Congress is working overtime to finish its legislative business and focus on the November elections. It is a good time to provide an update on some of the legislative and federal priorities pursued by the Public Policy Office to support psychological research, education and the public welfare. (Legislative priorities for practice appear elsewhere in this issue.)

Supporting science

APA's Science Policy staff has advocated primarily for solid funding of agencies that support behavioral research: the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF), and Department of Defense (DoD). Prospects for significant increases look good for NIH and DoD. If last-minute negotiations between Congress and the administration go as expected, NIH appears to be in line for another in a series of 15 percent increases. The final appropriation for DoD research is $9.1 billion. The upcoming Fiscal Year (FY) 2001 marks the first year in which at least one of the services (Army) will spend more than 2 percent of its RDT&E (research, development, technology & evaluation) money on science and technology. Most last-minute attention is focused on NSF funding, where a push is under way to begin the doubling of NSF's budget. PPO staff have joined coalition efforts lobbying both Congress and the administration to support the president's original request, a $4.57 billion proposed budget for NSF (a 17 percent increase over current funding).

PPO staff are also advocating in support of legislation to make buprenorphine, a new medication to treat opiate addiction, more widely available. That legislation is in a House-Senate conference committee at press time.

In the public interest

Public Interest Policy staff members continue to press for increased funding for federal programs that serve children, families, the elderly, people with mental and physical disabilities, and racial and ethnic minorities, among others. The Senate and House Appropriations Committees have both recommended about $2.73 billion for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), slightly more than a $75 million increase. Yet, this figure is below the amount requested by the administration and just a 3 percent increase over FY 2000. SAMHSA programs include the mental health and substance abuse block grants and the Minority Fellowship Program, which provides education and training to minority psychologists.

Public Interest Policy staff also advocate for increased funding for child abuse prevention, treatment and research, and other vital child welfare programs. These programs include the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) and the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG). For FY 2001, President Clinton and both houses of Congress propose to maintain, but not increase, funds for all of CAPTA's programs, including research and demonstration grants. For SSBG, the president proposes to retain the FY 2000 figure of $1.775 billion, whereas the Senate has threatened to cut it to $600 million. While the Senate threat has been averted, the funding remains precarious. This is sad news for child welfare, because in recent years, states have used more than 27 percent of their SSBG allocation to provide child welfare services in prevention, counseling and child protection.

PPO staff are cautiously celebrating gains made in legislation that address racial and ethnic health disparities. Leading coalition advocacy efforts, PPO staff brought psychologists to Capitol Hill to brief congressional staff and legislators on the importance of including increased funding for behavioral, as well as biomedical, research and training at the National Institutes of Health to address racial and ethnic health disparities. PPO staff continue to work intently on this initiative, and prospects for action look promising.

Education

PPO Education Advocacy staff are lobbying for $2 million for the INPSYCH program (Indians Into Psychology) for its existing school programs and expansion to other sites. The Senate Committee Report includes language under the Department of Health and Human Service's Health Professions Programs expressing support for the INPSYCH Program. The interest and support of Sen. Ted Stevens (R­Alaska), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has increased hope that this funding request will survive the final negotiations.

The Senate bill to reauthorize the Older Americans Act, S.1536, is expected to pass the Senate and be accepted by the House before the end of the session in mid-October. This bill contains a new provision to train psychologists and other mental health professionals in the specialty of gerontology as well as to establish multidisciplinary centers of gerontology with a special emphasis on mental health.

Watch for Part II of this column in the December Monitor, in which we will reveal how APA-supported legislation fared in the final days of the 106th Congress.