Public Policy Update

Imagine playing a critical role in convincing a U.S. senator to reconsider a voting position on a bill when he was an original co-sponsor. Could an APA member accomplish this? Absolutely! Through a recent initiative launched by APA's Public Policy Office (PPO), APA members have flexed their advocacy muscles and have successfully brought psychological research to legislators to help inform their federal policy decision-making. They have even been able to persuade congressional decision-makers to consider changes of position.

Since the fall of 2003, PPO has successfully coordinated advocacy campaigns for diverse APA public interest governance committees to lobby Senate offices in their home states on several hot legislative topics. (See "Grassroots campaign seeks to combat disparities" in the March Monitor for information on a previous campaign with the APA Committee on Ethnic Minority Affairs.) The coordinated advocacy campaigns highlight the need for APA grassroots outreach to members of Congress and emphasize the importance of establishing relationships with members of Congress and their staff.

To coincide with breaks in the congressional schedule, PPO launched four such advocacy campaigns with the Committee on Aging (CONA), Committee on Children, Youth and Families (CYF), Committee on Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Concerns (CLGBC) and Committee on Psychology and AIDS (COPA) during the Memorial Day and Independence Day recesses. Participating members of these committees (and affiliates) recruited at least two of their colleagues to meet with key staff of their members of Congress in their local home-state offices. PPO staff arranged the meetings and prepared APA members with talking points, meeting guidelines, background materials on their senator(s) and the public-interest issue at hand, a briefing sheet and a sample script. PPO staff also corresponded via e-mail and conducted conference calls to further members' preparation and advocacy training.

Supporting the Positive Aging Act

Members of CONA, along with representatives of the geropsychology community, made congressional visits in their home districts to discuss the health-care needs of older Americans and the role psychology plays in aging research and clinical practice. Among the aging experts/advocates were: Gregory Hinrichsen, PhD, Donna Rasin-Waters, PhD, Paula Hartman-Stein, PhD, Forrest Scogin, PhD, and Betty Welch, PhD. In particular, they encouraged their members of Congress to support the Positive Aging Act of 2004. If enacted, this bill would enhance access to vital mental health services for older Americans through mental health outreach in primary-care and community-based settings.

Preventing youth suicide

CYF members Susan Limber, PhD, Beth Doll, PhD, Marsha Kline Pruett, PhD, Nancy Hill, PhD, and John Lochman, PhD, met with their senators' staff to request increased funding for youth suicide-prevention programs and also to share state-specific information regarding youth suicide. In debriefing PPO's Annie Toro on the outcome of her meeting with a legislative assistant in the office of Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), Hill said her meeting was successful in highlighting the suicide prevention-funding initiative.

"The meeting went well, especially in terms of establishing a relationship," said Hill. "I was able to give [the staffer] some research findings that would be useful for a meeting he was having later in the day...[and] he said he would likely call me for information about some of the other topics he is working on."

Opposing discrimination against same-sex families

CLGBC members Beverly Greene, PhD, Gary Harper, PhD, Christopher Martell, PhD, Glenda Russell, PhD, and CLGBC liaison Gladys Croom, PsyD, met with their senators' staff to provide psychological research on same-sex families and relationships and voice opposition to discrimination against lesbian and gay couples as proposed by the Federal Marriage Amendment. Harper's meeting with the chief of staff/chief counsel for Sen. Pete Fitzgerald (R-Ill.) illustrated how sharing expert knowledge and psychological research repudiating the basic tenets of proposed social policy can help to develop relationships with congressional staff. Harper and his colleagues impressed the staffer so much so that she pressed Fitzgerald to reconsider his vote. However, Harper said the staffer called the next day to say she ultimately could not get Fitzgerald to oppose the amendment.

"[The staffer] said that she was quite impressed with our visit and welcomed us to speak with her about other issues," reports Harper. "She said that Fitzgerald is not willing to go back on his decision to support the amendment [since] he is one of the co-sponsors."

Advocating for families affected by HIV/AIDS

In meetings with Senate staff, COPA members Maureen Ellen Lyon, PhD, Bianca Guzman, PhD, Karen Schneider Ingersoll, PhD, David Martin, PhD, Jeffrey Parsons, PhD, and Javier G. Salazar advocated for increased funding for the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act of 1990, which provides essential health-care and mental health services to medically underserved individuals and families affected by HIV/AIDS. The Ryan White CARE Act needs $3.1 billion to address the needs of the close to 1 million people the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates are living with HIV/AIDS--$2 billion more than the president's budget requests.

Developing crucial relationships

These meetings were just the beginning of fostering grassroots outreach for CONA, CYF, CLGBC and COPA. By forging personal relationships with congressional staff, committee members can help educate members of Congress about how psychological research can inform debates on legislation and ultimately influence future decisions on health-care issues. Get involved--because grassroots strength comes from numbers.

Gabriela B. Schneider is the advocacy network officer in APA's Public Policy Office. For more information on how to join PPO's federal policy advocacy initiatives, contact her at ppo@apa.org.