Since the Legislature returned in January, there have been many policy proposals in the proposed state budget regarding social workers. As mentioned in a previous article, social work is getting noticed in the Capitol! This year, there have been many discussions about the behavioral workforce shortage and center to many of those discussions is the unique and valuable role for social workers in behavioral health and other work settings.
In the Governor’s proposed budget, he included $210 million in General Fund dollars for social work training, which includes stipends and scholarships for social work students. The Governor also proposed allocating $90 million to the Healthcare Workforce Advancement Fund. This fund shall be used to support job entry and career advancement for entry level workers in health and human services settings. The Governor specifically set aside $40 million of the $90 million for social worker training. Lastly, social workers were included in a $60 million General Fund investment for multilingual applicants. This money would expand scholarships and loan repayment for healthcare and social workers.
Since the budget was proposed in January, there have been numerous advocate budget proposals focused on increasing the supply of social workers. NASW-CA has been central to these conversations. NASW-CA is cosponsoring one proposal along with our partners at the County Welfare Directors Association (CWDA), the California Association of Deans and Directors of Social Work (CADD), and SEIU to increase capacity at graduate schools of social work at the University of California and California State University systems. The proposal also includes $15 million per year for two years to increase support to community-based organizations and county agencies to offer field internships. In addition, the proposal includes $13 million per year for two years for educational stipends to MSW students from underrepresented communities. It is important to note that this proposal will support social workers in all settings, not only behavioral health and not only LCSWs.
There is also a mega behavioral health workforce proposal that includes aspects from a separate proposal we worked on with other licensed mental health provider organizations. This includes money for loan forgiveness, clinical stipends, and scholarships. The mega proposal also includes $250 million to provide 10,000 grants for aspiring mental health professionals including LCSWs. It also includes a restart of the lapsed mental health stipend for social workers whereby MSW students will be eligible for $18,500 per year for two years with a two-year Public Behavioral Health Service (PBHS) obligation. The program will be designed to support students from under-represented communities including geographically underrepresented areas such as the San Joaquin Valley and the Inland Empire.
The mega proposal also includes money for internship placement opportunities between Merced and Stanislaus Counties and CSU Stanislaus Department of Social Work, Psychology, and Counselor Education programs. The proposal also includes $600 million to provide hiring or performance-based bonuses, salary augmentation, overtime pay, or hazard pay to professionals working in the public behavioral health delivery system, its contracted providers, and Medi-Cal enrolled behavioral health providers. Of this money, $100 million is set aside to retain or recruit licensed staff at facilities and programs at risk of closure due to a licensed staff shortage.
Lastly, the mega proposal includes money to support planning for the development of accelerated academic programs in social work, such as the one-year graduate program offered at certain schools if the student has an undergraduate degree in social work. They are also looking at the pipeline from high schools and people who are peer support specialists or community health workers to help them achieve a degree in social work.
This article only mentions some of the proposals being considered by the Legislature! The Governor will present his May Revision of the state budget in mid-May, and the Legislature must pass the budget by June 15th so we will know more soon. Stay tuned for more updates.