12 Grand Challenges Has Policy Ideas for Democrats

Tuesday, December 18th, 2018 @ 10:44AM

Democrats led by heir apparent Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will regain control of the House of Representatives after eight years of Republican rule. They get to chair the committees and set the legislative agenda and, yes, they will control the purse strings. Many are supporting Pelosi because of her ability to exercise power—she gets things done. She is tough as nails as she demonstrated last week in her confrontational meeting with President Donald Trump. My concern about her leadership is the agenda. She has not yet articulated a vision of where she would like to lead the party and the nation. Her last effort, done jointly with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer gave us the ill-fated A BetterDeal. Ouch!

Perhaps social workers might pitch in with a few cogent policy ideas that could help get the ball rolling. The 12 Grand Challenges for Social Work is an initiative overseen by the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (AASWSW) that has been at work addressing some of the country’s most pressing and intractable social ills. Each of the grand challenges has a network of scholars, researchers and practitioners working with other disciplines to develop programs and policies that will address homelessness, mass incarceration, child welfare and other concerns while mitigating the overall effects of poverty and racism.

Much like policymakers focused on economic development, social workers are looking for increased investment in human capital development. Many of America’s children will not have futures comparable to the lifestyles of their parents if economic inequality continues to grow unabated. One idea to help children build assets and brighter futures is child development accounts. Michael Sherraden, distinguished professor at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis and director of the Center for Social Development, has made this much of his life’s work, helping to enact child saving accounts in Singapore, and in Israel. He was a keynote speaker at a recent conference in Azerbaijan and visited China as other countries consider adopting these accounts. There is interest here in the United States. New Jersey Senator Corey Booker signaled his intention to introduce legislation for child savings accounts following the success of Oklahoma’s SEED program developed by Dr. Sherraden.

Dr. J. David Hawkins

On another front, the Collaborative on Healthy Parenting in Primary Care convened a meeting at the National Academy of Medicine last week to discuss ways to generate resources to ensure a strong research foundation and develop sustainable funding mechanisms to cover the cost of these services and improved training for primary care physicians. Led by University of Washington School of Social Work Endowed Professor Emeritus J. David Hawkins, co-lead of the Ensure Healthy Development for all Youth Grand Challenge network, they will need the support of the Democratic House to get approval to use Medicaid and enact legislation to broaden participation in these programs in other settings. Supporting healthy families and children would be a winnable policy opportunity for Democrats.

Keeping people out of prison prevents the destruction of human capital. Carrie Pettus-Davis, co-lead for the Smart Decarceration Grand Challenge network is leading the research component for the Safe Streets and Second Chances initiative that led to the First Step Act, a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill pushed by presidential advisor Jared Kushner and recently backed by President Trump. Dr. Pettus-Davis, the founding director of the Institute for Justice Research and Development at Florida State University College of Social Work, worked closely with Kushner and the Texas Public Policy Foundation on the bill. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced this week that he plans to bring the bill to the Senate floor for a vote.

Rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure and investing in its people are low hanging fruit for Democrats after decades of corporate welfare and tax give aways to the richest Americans. Also high on their agenda is restoring voting balance in the country to enable voters to pick the politicians rather than having politicians pick voters through gerrymandering and voter suppression activities. They would do well to push rolling back restrictions on collective bargaining, giving tax cuts to lower- and middle-income Americans, and raising taxes on the most affluent. It will take years to turn the ship around as the Senate will not support their legislation and the President will not sign any of their bills. However, Dems need show average Americans they have ideas to improve their futures.

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