By Lupe Sema, Ana Quiroz, Jason Singh, Katrina Suprise, MSW, and Shelly Kalmer, MSW, ACSW
Every April, we have the honor of sponsoring local graduate social work students from CSULB-Distance Ed as they descend upon our state capitol to participate in the NASW California Chapter Lobby Days events.
This year was no different. Following the weekend, we set out to hear from them about their experience. We hope you enjoy their responses as much as we do.
Sonoma Unit (SU): What was your interest in attending Lobby Days?
Lupe Sema (LS): I heard so many great things about Lobby Days from my colleagues who attended the year before. I definitely wanted to make it a part of my graduate college experience. I was also interested in what Lobby Days had to teach about the importance of macro social work and I was also interested in the process as well.
SU: In what way did you participate in Lobby Day events?
LS: I attended the conference on Sunday which consisted mostly of reviewing the legislation supported by NASW. I was assigned a Senator according to the area I lived in. I had the opportunity to collaborate with other social work students and be able to practice my lobbying skills by advocating for a senate bill. Sunday evening we created rallying signs and chants with other CSULB students as well. Monday was when I met with the staff representative for the Senator of my area. I didn’t get the chance to stay for the rally due to work but I definitely plan on going next year to be part of that!
SU: What were the most meaningful experiences that you had?
LS: Overall, I thought the whole process of Lobby Days was very meaningful. From the beginning to the end, it showed the importance of macro social work. It was very empowering to be around other social workers and having the confidence and energy to advocate strongly for policies that will help the communities we serve.
SU: In what way do the Lobby Days activities relate to social work?
Jason Singh (JS): The intriguing part of being a social worker is we have many different professional roles, making the field of social work diverse. Social workers are given the opportunity for creativity in their role. A small percentage of social workers would state that their primary responsibility is advocacy, but it is a role of the social worker to create change where it is needed and to empower. Lobby Days gives the opportunity to social workers, in a condensed period of time, to learn about a policy and how it is carried from an idea to implementation. When working at our agencies, sometimes we ask ourselves, “Why do we do that?” or “Why is this like that?” For me, attending Lobby Days has really tied everything together. Lobby Days has created a structure to give social workers a chance to express their thoughts and opinions on how to change a system and how to better serve the population we work with on a large scale.
SU: In what way is lobbying connected to direct service/micro-practice?
JS: When attending Lobby Days, you see the needs of individuals and policy overlapping. I also attended Lobby Days last year. One of the bills that social workers lobbied for was AB 1455 Pupils: Bullying: Counseling. The bill would authorize schools to provide referrals for mental health services including school social workers for case management, counseling and participating in restorative practices to victims, witnesses, and other pupils who are affected by an act of bullying. According to NASW, the bill was needed due to only perpetrators of the school bullying incident being offered access to mental health services as an alternative to suspension. The bill was created to serve victims, witness and other individuals involved in the incident.
According to the California Legislation Information website (http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov) AB 1455 was approved by Governor Jerry Brown on August 21, 2014. All the social workers who attended Lobby Days to advocate throughout the Capitol had a major impact with the passing of this bill, which drastically impacts social workers, the way they implement their services and the impact it has on the youth and school.
SU: What did you learn/gain from the Lobby Days event?
Ana Quiroz (AQ): At Lobby Days I learned different strategies to advocate for the senate bills at the legislative appointment and how a bill becomes law. The team meeting prepared me for the legislative appointment by providing hands-on experience and connecting with other social workers across the state. I gained advocacy skills at the macro level and learned how I can educate legislators on major issues that impact the population I serve.
SU: What was one of the bills you lobbied in favor of and why?
AQ: I lobbied in favor of Senate Bill 4 (SB 4), the “Health for All Act,” which expands access to health care coverage to all Californians, regardless of immigration status. Currently, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) excludes undocumented immigrants from insurance coverage through Medi-Cal and prohibits them from purchasing their own health insurance through the Covered California Health Insurance Exchange.
I visited the office of Senator Lois Wolk to advocate for SB 4 as close family members, friends, neighbors, and members of my community have been denied the opportunity to purchase health insurance due to the immigration status. Advocating for SB 4 at the Lobby Days was highly important for me because I work directly with many undocumented families and individuals. Currently, I work with seasonal farm workers and a large number of them are ineligible to purchase health care coverage due to their undocumented status. The implementation of SB 4 will tremendously benefit them as well as their families. Hearing that Senator Lois Wolk was a strong supporter of SB 4 gave me hope for all the students, families, and farm workers I serve who have been excluded from the current health care policy.