Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass is a remarkable individual and incredibly talented political social worker. Her gifts and skills were displayed last week when she delivered her first State of the City address marking 100 days in office. She’s made reducing homelessness, an intractable problem for Los Angeles and other major cities in the United States, her top priority. According to statistics released by the city, on any given day approximately 40,000 people are without shelter in Los Angeles. The new mayor plans to fix this. In her budget, released a week ago, she set aside $1.3 billion to address the issue, a 9.7 percent increase over the prior year.
A significant portion of those funds will go towards addressing the mental needs of city residents, particularly among the unhoused, as will a good chunk of the record dollars slated to rebuild the police department. Her plan to increase the police budget by 6.3 percent rankled some of the city’s more progressive citizens, who favored the $150 million cut by the L.A. City Council in 2020, in the wake of the George Floyd murder. Thinking like the social worker she is, it’s not just about hiring more police but hiring civilians to populate desks, freeing more cops to be on the streets. She plans to create mental health crisis teams and an Office of Community Safety. It will be interesting to see how she uses social workers to enhance public safety.
Many were disappointed when Rep. Bass decided to relinquish her seat in the House of Representatives to run for mayor. Her departure reduced the number of social work Members of Congress to five Democrats: Congressional Social Work Caucus Chair Barbara Lee (CA-12), Rep. Sylvia Garcia (TX-29), freshman Rep. Hillary Scholten (MI-3), Sen. Debbie Stabenow (MI), and Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), half of ten who were serving in Congress when I arrived on the Hill in 2010.
Congresswoman Bass arrived on the Hill in January 2011 and immediately founded the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth. She was able to recruit several Republican members because she knew the well-being of foster care youth cuts across party lines. She set in motion a campaign to improve the lives of youth in and aging out of foster care, introducing several bills designed to address mental health, tribal issues, kinship care, and a bill to eliminate or reduce barriers to youth with lived experience obtaining driver’s licenses which is often the difference between having access to education and employment.
With the bipartisan Congressional Member Organization in place, she created the nonprofit National Foster Youth Initiative to ensure young people with lived experience would have a prominent voice in deliberations taking place on the Hill. You can see them in action tomorrow, leading the congressional briefing on a bill to provide alternative mental health treatments for youth with foster care experiences who are 62 percent more likely to face mental health challenges and barriers to accessing conventional talk therapy. The briefing will be held tomorrow, April 26, 2023, at 9:00 a.m. in Room CVC 268 in the Capitol Visitor Center, First Street, NE, and East Capitol Street, NE. The public is welcome to attend.
Mayor Bass is a trailblazer and one of our most consequential social workers. Elected to the California State Assembly from the 47th District in 2004, she was elevated to Speaker of the California State Assembly in 2008, the first African American woman to become speaker of a state legislature in the United States. She was elected to the House of Representatives in 2012 and then went on to earn her MSW from the University of Southern California in 2015. The years are correct. She earned her MSW after she was elected to Congress. She was elected to chair the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) in 2018 and was on the short list of candidates to be Joe Biden’s running mate in 2020.
Her social work skills will be put to the test as mayor of the nation’s second-largest city, with a population of 3.9 million, behind New York City’s 8.5 million. She has earned a reputation as a coalition builder. People love to work with and for her. Her opponent, billionaire Rick Caruso, spent $104 million—mostly his money—but could not hire enough staff, foot soldiers, and media advertising to overcome Karen Bass’s army of eager supporters. She defeated Caruso handily, 56% to 47%, despite spending a little over $9 million or being outspent 11 to 1. Social workers have a knack for knowing how to accomplish more with less.