The Biden-Harris administration announced significant updates to the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) Guidance for Federal Financial Assistance. This pivotal move will make over $1.2 trillion in federal funds more accessible for families, communities, and small businesses. These modifications, representing the most substantial changes to the federal grants process since the Uniform Grants Guidance was instituted 10 years ago, are designed to streamline and clarify the requirements associated with federal funding.

The revised Uniform Grants Guidance focuses on reducing unnecessary compliance costs and administrative burdens. The goal is to make it easier for recipients, particularly those in underserved communities, to access essential funding without getting bogged down by bureaucratic complexities. The guidance notably emphasizes the importance of data and evaluation in program development and implementation, ensuring that federal funds are used effectively to achieve meaningful outcomes.

One of the fundamental changes includes the simplification of the Notice of Funding Opportunities (NOFOs). By rewriting NOFOs in plain language and including an executive summary, they look to help non-experts and smaller organizations more clearly understand program objectives and application requirements. Furthermore, the guidance promotes equity by removing the requirement to use English in notices, applications, and reporting. The updates also stress the need for federal agencies to engage with affected communities actively. This involves consultations with nonprofits, labor unions, and Tribal governments, as well as the use of responsible contractors.

Accompanying the guidance revisions, the OMB has issued an implementation memorandum that directs federal agencies to adopt these changes by Oct. 1. This directive includes additional tools to strengthen the administration of federal financial assistance, ensuring that agencies and recipients can focus more on delivering impactful results, rather than navigating the complexities of administrative requirements.

This overhaul of the grants guidance was informed by a comprehensive review process involving over 50 federal agencies and considering more than 3,200 public comments, reflecting a broad spectrum of stakeholder insights. By making these adjustments, the Biden-Harris administration aims to foster a more supportive and transparent environment for federal grant recipients.

Senate Hearing Focuses on Solutions for the Long-Term Care Workforce Crisis

On April 16, the Senate Special Committee on Aging convened the hearing, “The Long-Term Care Workforce: Addressing Shortages and Improving the Profession,” chaired by Sen. Bob Casey. The hearing assembled a diverse group of stakeholders to discuss pressing issues facing the long-term care workforce and explore potential legislative and practical solutions.

In his opening statement, Sen. Casey underscored the dire situation in long-term care settings, where staffing shortages have become increasingly prevalent, significantly affecting the quality of care. He highlighted the introduction of the Long-Term Care Workforce Support Act, a legislative effort aiming to provide comprehensive support for the workforce, including improved compensation, respect, and a safe working environment.

Ranking member Sen. Mike Braun emphasized the importance of state-led initiatives and flexibility, critiquing a one-size-fits-all approach. He advocated for innovative local solutions to bolster the workforce without imposing burdensome federal regulations.

Testimonies from frontline workers and educators provided a personal touch to statistics. Brooke Vogleman, a licensed practical nurse, shared her journey and the ongoing challenges in the profession, including the reliance on temporary staffing agencies due to chronic understaffing and burnout exacerbated by the pandemic. Additionally, Nicholas Smith, a direct support professional, detailed his role’s physical and emotional toll, illustrating the critical need for better compensation and support systems to prevent burnout and ensure a sustainable workforce.

Dr. Matthew Connell from Ivy Tech Community College highlighted Indiana’s educational initiatives that address workforce shortages through targeted training programs, demonstrating the potential impact of academic and professional development opportunities. Assistant Professor Jasmine Travers from New York University provided an academic perspective, noting the severe impact of staffing shortages on patient care and calling for systemic changes to improve working conditions and compensation.

The hearing vividly depicted the challenges and opportunities within the long-term care sector. It called for a unified approach where federal and state governments, educational institutions, and health care providers enact meaningful reforms that ensure quality care for the aging population and respect and support those who provide this indispensable service. The testimonies and discussions from the hearing underscored a commitment to transforming the long-term care workforce into a more sustainable, respected, and professionally rewarding field.

Exploring the Biden-Harris Administration’s Vision for America’s Future

As the Biden-Harris administration forges ahead into the second half of its term, recent White House briefings offered a window into the diverse strategies that aim to reshape America’s economic and social fabric. These briefings, covering a broad spectrum of initiatives, underscored a commitment to steering the nation through pressing challenges while laying a foundation for sustainable growth. Each briefing articulated distinct yet interconnected objectives, reflecting the administration’s intentions to actively balance immediate needs with long-term goals.

Highlights from the FY2025 Budget Briefing
In a comprehensive briefing on the FY2025 budget, Shalanda Young, director of the OMB, outlined the administration’s strategic fiscal objectives aimed at fortifying the economic landscape of the U.S. Central to the budget are measures to reduce living costs, spur economic growth, decrease the federal deficit and safeguard entitlement programs, such as Social Security and Medicare.

Key initiatives include continuing efforts to lower drug prices, exemplified by the imposition of a $35 cap on insulin and enhanced Medicare negotiations. The briefing also detailed fiscal supports for housing, with notable proposals like a $10,000 credit for first-time homebuyers and equivalent incentives for existing homeowners facing higher mortgages. Additionally, the budget advocates for expanded child care subsidies and a significant $150 billion allocation towards Medicaid home-based services. The economic growth strategy hinges on investments in manufacturing, clean energy, and healthcare, complemented by tax reforms favoring lower and middle-income families and robust measures against tax fraud.

The Biden-Harris Agenda for Bipartisan Collaboration

Emmy Ruiz, assistant to the president and political director, also introduced a session emphasizing bipartisan cooperation under the Biden-Harris administration’s Unity Agenda. Key areas of focus include tackling the opioid crisis, enhancing mental health services, supporting veterans, regulating big tech, and combatting cancer.

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra elaborated on initiatives like the significant expansion of the 988 behavioral health crisis line and targets set by the cancer moonshot initiative to halve cancer fatalities within 25 years. Contributions from Dr. Rahul Gupta and other officials highlighted ongoing efforts to curb the opioid epidemic. They underscored the administration’s commitment to broad health care improvements, including increased drug affordability and enhanced treatment options for addiction.

Subscribe to the Policy and Advocacy Radar to receive our biweekly policy roundup, which includes commentary on issues in Social Current’s federal policy agenda, opportunities to take action, and curated news and opportunities.

Advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) is an ongoing journey that requires continuous learning and dialogue among all staff. Through our work, know that organizations are the most effective in advancing EDI when they build an organizational culture that deeply embeds these precepts at multiple levels. That’s why we are offering a variety of opportunities to meet the needs of staff with varying responsibilities and current knowledge of EDI concepts.

Our slate of upcoming virtual learning opportunities provides solutions for:

Learn more and register for upcoming sessions. Social Current Impact Partners and organizations that have achieved COA Accreditation receive a discounted rate.

EDI Essentials for Supervisors

Supervisors play a key role in supporting and retaining staff, engaging diverse teams, and fostering a sense of belonging, so it’s important to make sure they are equipped with the right knowledge and tools. Being an effective supervisor requires specific skills that are often unaddressed and underdeveloped.

Using equity, diversity, and inclusion principles as the foundation, this virtual learning series will help supervisors support and engage their team members’ varied views, experiences, and capabilities.

These sessions are offered throughout the year to provide supervisors with continual learning, networking, and support. Register for individual sessions or save by purchasing the entire series.

Translating EDI Practice into Action

Successfully leading EDI initiatives requires a deep understanding of the common challenges that affect organizational culture, as well as practices that build bridges and create a stronger community. This virtual learning series is designed for staff who are leading their organizations’ EDI efforts and want to grow their understanding and application of key EDI concepts. Participants will be able to better address complex workplace dynamics and craft meaningful strategies for growth.

These sessions are designed for staff who are new to leading EDI initiatives, or as a refresher course for those looking to revamp or relaunch an EDI initiative. Register for single sessions or save by purchasing the entire series.

Advancing Equity Workshop: Fundamentals to Support Your Journey

During this three-part virtual workshop, participants will learn and engage in a safe environment, where they can ask questions and share reflections with their peers. Using Social Current’s three-prong approach to EDI (Person, Organization and Systems), the presenters will encourage participants to develop a deeper personal EDI journey, to build an inclusive work culture, and to become more aware of the systems that impact us all.

Participants will explore their relationships with EDI in a safe environment and increase understanding of how to build an equitable and inclusive workplace culture and foster psychological safety. In addition, they will explore the phases of organizational growth in EDI and learn about the essential components of a successful EDI plan. Participants will gain the foundation they need to create their own EDI plan.

Save the date for this three-part workshop, to be held July 9, July 16, and July 25.

Customized Consulting

Social Current also offers support and training through our EDI consulting. Our services build on decades of work with nonprofit organizations and knowledge about what makes EDI efforts successful. Learn more and contact us to get started.

Lauri Goldkind, associate professor at Fordham University, will lead a session on artificial intelligence (AI) in human services at the upcoming CEO Convening, May 1-3 in Detroit. During the session, she’ll help participants assess opportunities and challenges related to using AI in human services organizations. This rapidly developing technology holds promising benefits for greater efficiency and effectiveness; however, it must be implemented strategically. Participants will be introduced to the three main applications of generative AI, learn how to conduct an organizational readiness assessment, and consider the elements of an organizational AI policy.

Goldkind’s research interests include data justice, AI and data ecosystems in nonprofit management, and telemental health and human rights. She has coauthored two articles for Social Current’s journal, Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services. The journal offers peer-reviewed content that continually advances the social work profession.

“That’s the Beauty of It”: Practitioners Describe the Affordances of Direct-to-Consumer Tele-Mental Health
Lauri Goldkind and Lea Wolf
Published 2021, Vol. 102 (Issue 4)

This qualitative study uses the framework of affordances, derived from James Jerome Gibson, to examine what social work practitioners working on direct-to-consumer tele-mental health (DTCTMH) platforms are discovering about the features, benefits, and constraints of virtual therapy.

An interpretive phenomenological approach was employed to document the lived experiences of social workers who practice in this manner. According to the practitioners interviewed, for a subset of individuals seeking treatment, DTCTMH can offer meaningful interpersonal interaction that confers benefit. Key affordances include accessibility, anonymity, meaningful work, autonomy, lifelong learning, and access by new populations. Practitioners simultaneously acknowledge the ethical complexities and structural challenges of DTCTMH practice. The article concludes with suggestions for future research, policy, and practice.

Selling Your Soul on the Information Superhighway: Consenting to Services in Direct-to-Consumer Tele-Mental Health
Lauri Goldkind and Lea Wolf
Published 2020, Vol. 101 (Issue 1)

The practice of on-demand digital psychotherapy presents ethical questions, as new economic models, service delivery systems, and therapeutic models are introduced. Virtual therapy, now offered on a subscription basis by third-party providers, requires users to accept terms of service (ToS) agreements.

This article describes the results of a survey in which participants (n = 579) were asked to compare the values of the Human Rights framework with the language of one tele-mental health platform’s ToS user agreement. Findings suggest that those clients with prior experience with a mental health professional will find the ToS agreements to be the most ethically compromised. Similarly, individuals who are employed and have attained a higher level of education also found the ToS to be ethically suspect. Of those who were surveyed, individuals who hold less education and those who are unemployed, may be at most risk for signing consent to a system they do not understand. The study provides one example of the ethical questions that emerge from the introduction of a new model of for-profit service provision in mental health. Recommendations for consumers and practitioners are suggested.

How to Gain Access to Social Work Research

Social Current’s Knowledge and Insights Center offers the research and resources human services professionals need to stay current on emerging trends, implement practices, and advance organizational excellence. One feature of the Knowledge and Insights Center is the complete collection of Families in Society journal content, dating back to 1920.

In addition, users have access to an extensive resource library with thousands of catalog records in more than 20 topic collections, EBSCOhost, and customized research requests with knowledgeable librarians.

The Knowledge and Insights Center is one of the many benefits of being a Social Current Impact Partner. Other benefits include convenings and networking opportunities, complimentary participation in our workforce resilience virtual learning series, and special cost savings on solutions from Social Current and our Strategic Industry Partners.

Organizations may also purchase access to the Knowledge and Insights Center.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Since 1983, when Child Abuse Prevention Month was first established, this national recognition has coalesced efforts to bring communities together to serve children and their families in meaningful, impactful ways that provide families what they need to thrive through both calm and challenging times.

Child abuse prevention efforts have evolved over the years. For example, when the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities released its final report in 2016, it was intended to equip policymakers, practitioners, and advocates with the tools needed to fundamentally reform child welfare. It outlined a vision for a 21st-century child welfare system predicated on a proactive public health approach that was framed by greater leadership and accountability, decisions grounded in better data and research, and multidisciplinary support for families.

In October 2019, the Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime launched the Child Safety Forward initiative, with technical assistance provided by Social Current, to test strategies based on the commission’s report for a public health approach to reducing child abuse and neglect fatalities. We issued our final evaluation report on the initiative last year, and in that report, identified three very important themes that  emerged across this work.

  • Invest in protective factors
  • Address disproportionality and racial bias
  • Meaningfully engage the community and people with lived experience

First, many organizations and jurisdictions began their work with a focus on risk factors among children. However, because these initiatives took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, we gained greater insights into the impact of concrete, economic supports for families during times of crisis. This real-time learning inspired a shift from focusing solely on risk factors to an approach that more heavily identified and addressed protective factors.

Protective factors are conditions or attributes that mitigate or eliminate risk and can increase the health and well-being of children and families. They provide parents with the tools they need to parent effectively even under stress. Major protective factors include knowledge of parenting, knowledge of child development, parental resilience, social connections, and concrete supports.

That shift in focus led to strategies that promote strengthening families and identifying supports that help children stay with their families and prevent them from entering the child welfare system, a finding that is supported by a range of recent research. In fact, April has more recently also been designated as Family Strengthening Month in response to the growing body of knowledge in support of the importance and impact of family strengthening approaches.

Secondly, it has become more evident than ever that child welfare must acknowledge and address the impact of disproportionality and racial bias across child welfare decision-making. This is a system-wide issue and will require systemic changes to address it.

And finally, what has been missing for too long in the conversation about keeping children safe is the voice of the community and those with lived experience. Parents are key to keeping their children safe and resilient. While parents have historically been placed in antagonistic roles in child welfare systems, it is critical that parents are positioned as strong partners and leaders in our efforts.

To achieve this vision, though, we must shift from a child welfare system that responds after harm has occurred to a family strengthening approach that invests in upstream preventive resources that respond to the needs and challenges of families. The challenge we face in achieving this, though, is that the framework of our child welfare system is not set up to respond unless a child has come to the attention of the system because of harm occurring or through a report from a mandatory reporter or hotline call.

Achieving a more preventive system means moving away from the idea that it is solely the function of child protective services (CPS) to keep kids safe. Instead, CPS is one component in a shared, community-wide responsibility for child and family well-being with an emphasis on prevention and a public health approach that addresses the social determinants of health.  

A public health approach to child safety and prevention of fatalities looks for the maximum benefit for the largest number of people, promoting the healthy development and well-being of all children. It works not only at the family level, but also at the community and societal level by bringing the public and private sectors together to align, leverage, and coordinate existing resources to provide support to children and families and to address risks and promote resilience before there is a crisis. Importantly, CPS remains a critical downstream component, but the goal is for fewer families to require CPS involvement.

Because communication is so vital to this shift, an additional resource for child welfare professionals is the Building Better Childhoods website and toolkit. It is based on the framing brief, “Reframing Childhood Adversity: Promoting Upstream Approaches,” developed by the FrameWorks Institute in partnership with Prevent Child Abuse America and Social Current, and provides tools and resources that can help child welfare professionals talk about the shift to a more preventative, family-strengthening system. We know this transition from a CPS-focused child welfare system to a much broader child and family well-being system is not an easy shift to make, but it is one we hope everyone can embrace as we prioritize the tools and resources needed to keep families safe, strong, and together.

We have long been aware of the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on our long-term health and well-being. Because toxic stress from ACEs can change brain development and how the body responds to stress, their occurrence in childhood has a direct correlation to increases in substance abuse, mental illnesses, and poor health outcomes.

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) recently published a new study that puts a staggering dollar figure on that impact. Researchers found that ACEs cost our nation $14.1 trillion annually because of related adult health conditions, including direct medical spending and lost productivity.

However, the study is limited, in that it doesn’t identify the disparities in the number of ACEs impacting children and families of color, and the exponentially higher costs for this segment of our population. In fact, a recent Child Trends report indicates that 61% of Black children in the U.S. have experienced at least one ACE, as compared with 40% of white children and 23% of Asian children.

Researchers have long identified ACEs based on the Felitti scale, which identifies 10 items under two categories:

  • Maltreatment: Physical, sexual, and psychological abuse and physical and emotional neglect
  • Parental Problems: Psychopathology, substance misuse, and three forms of family instability

What’s missing is the impact of generational and historical trauma, especially racism.

Impact of Generational Trauma and Systemic Racism

Racism has a direct and measurable impact on children’s health. More families of color live in poverty than white families, which can lead to food insecurity, lack of safe housing, and reduced access to health care and education. All of these increase chronic stress in children and can have long-term health consequences, with African Americans at a higher risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer, asthma, influenza, diabetes, and HIV/AIDS. This disproportionality also is evident in incarceration rates, child welfare system involvement, and educational outcomes for African American youth, and disparities are often linked to systemic biases.

Research backs this up. A study from Princeton University sociologist Devah Pager showed that young Black men with similar education and no criminal record were much less likely to be offered a job than similar white men. It went on to show that white men with criminal records had an equal or better chance of being hired than Black men with no record. We see the same biases in housing discrimination, child separation rates in child welfare, and more.

There has been some progress in expanding the ACEs scale to reflect the toxic stress that bias and racism impart on children. For example, the team at RYSE Youth Center in Oakland expanded the original ACEs pyramid from the CDC, adding layers of collective and multigenerational thinking, layers of historical, cultural, and social context, to highlight the deeper roots of trauma and explore why these traumatic experiences occur in the first place. The CDC has since adopted the more complete picture offered by this pyramid.

For those of us who work in health and human services, it is critical that we expand our understanding of trauma and adversity beyond the 10 ACEs questions, and work to integrate both trauma-informed and antiracist efforts across the systems we support.

Embracing a Trauma-Informed Approach

One example can be found in Zero to Three’s Safe Babies Court Team™ (SBCT) approach, which focuses on minimizing trauma and its impact on early development by improving how the courts, child welfare agencies, and related child-serving organizations come together to partner with families to support their young children. This approach recognizes that some families experience great stress while raising their children due to environmental conditions—community violence, systemic racism, trauma, or health issues—that make it difficult to provide safety and stability. The Safe Babies Court Team approach does not promote a “one-size-fits-all” solution to the challenges faced by families within the child welfare system or by the system itself. By addressing the needs of each family, through housing, work opportunities, job training, transportation, substance use counseling, and more, Safe Babies Courts are showing that their children are reaching permanency three times faster than infants and toddlers in the general foster care population. Almost two-thirds of babies and toddlers are reunified or find permanent homes with members of their families.

This approach calls for practitioners to ensure all equity efforts include knowledge and practices that embed brain science concepts, including understanding the areas of our nervous system that are activated when we discuss, experience, or perpetrate racism, and how that activation creates barriers for connection.

A core concept of the trauma-informed approach is, “healing happens in relationships.” The development of safe, stable, and nurturing relationships can help build greater resilience in individuals. In its July 2021 policy statement, the Academy of Pediatrics emphasized the need to shift from toxic stress to building relational health. As Dr. Andrew Garner with the American Academy of Pediatrics notes: “The concept of drawing on positive relationships as a shield against the toxic stress caused by adverse experiences has never been more relevant. Over the past few years, we’ve experienced a socially isolating pandemic and reckoned with centuries of structural racism. We must take steps to help kids form close, healthy, and nurturing bonds, whether it is within family, school, or community.”

Policymakers have a role to play as well, by promoting concrete, economic supports and family strengthening policies, such as expanded family medical leave, child tax credits, access to safe and affordable housing, access to early childhood education and mental health services, and more. Research from Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago has demonstrated that connecting families to a well-resourced, community-driven prevention system can meaningfully address the root causes of adverse experiences, including racism, child abuse and neglect and trauma. 

Despite the terrible cost of ACEs, both in economic dollars and lifelong negative impacts, the latest research has demonstrated the potential for safe, stable, and nurturing relationships to act as a protective buffer against the harm of toxic stress on children. When we expand our view of ACEs to include the impact of generational racism, and lift up community efforts focused on building relationships and an understanding that our diversity as a nation is our strength, we have a better roadmap to addressing disparities and incorporating trauma-informed approaches that can help provide all children with a foundation for building resilience that leads to safer, healthier outcomes throughout their life.

Last week, Congress passed the second and final package of bills that make up the federal budget. President Joe Biden signed it over the weekend. This marks the end of a drawn-out period characterized by months of continuing resolutions to bide time for negotiations. The Labor, Health and Human Services, Education bill included $225.4 billion, a $200 million reduction compared with FY2023. The bill includes a $1 billion increase for childcare and early learning programs within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Head Start will receive $12 billion and the Child Care and Development Block Grant will receive almost $9 billion, a 9% increase over last year.

Other highlights include an $18 million increase for the 988 Suicide Prevention Lifeline and $4.6 billion for substance use prevention and treatment programs. Title I-A grants and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) programs saw $20 million increases and school districts will receive $160 million to fund school-based mental health professionals. Finally, 12,000 Afghans will receive Special Immigrant Visas. With the two packages combined, defense spending equaled $886 billion, a 3% increase from FY2023, and nondefense spending totaled $773 billion, which is even with last year.

Sources: NPR and Senate Appropriations Committee

Administration Bolsters Patient-Focused Primary Care Model

The Biden-Harris administration has launched a new initiative to enhance investments in patient-focused primary care. Through the Accountable Care Organization (ACO) Primary Care (PC) Flex Model, primary care providers within eligible ACOs will deliver innovative, team-based care to Medicare beneficiaries. This model, administered by HHS and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), provides ACOs with a one-time advanced shared-savings payment as well as monthly prospective primary care payments. By equipping ACOs with resources and flexibility, it aims to cover formation and administrative costs to ensure optimal care provision. This initiative reflects the CMS commitment to fortifying the primary care system and promoting competition in healthcare.

By incorporating health equity considerations and incentivizing team-based care, the new model strives to address disparities. Implemented within the Medicare Shared Savings Program, it focuses on low revenue ACOs, aiming to improve efficiency and quality. The ACO PC Flex Model, a five-year voluntary initiative, will commence Jan. 1, 2025, with about 130 ACOs planned for participation.

New Executive Order on Women’s Health Research

President Joe Biden has issued an executive order aimed at bolstering women’s health research. This initiative, as part of a broader effort to address longstanding disparities, emphasizes the administration’s commitment to economic empowerment for women. Key provisions of the order include directing federal agencies like the National Science Foundation and HHS to explore the use of artificial intelligence in advancing women’s health research. It also mandates the expansion of data collection on women’s midlife health and prioritizes investments in menopause-related research.

Historically, women’s health research has faced disparities in funding and representation in clinical trials. To address this, the White House has proposed a $12 billion research fund for women’s health at the National Institute of Health as well as the establishment of a national network of women’s research centers. The order also focuses on menopause research, instructing the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments to study and improve treatment for women in the military and veterans. This initiative underscores the administration’s commitment to addressing all diseases affecting women and aims to provide comprehensive support for women’s health and well-being.

Hearing on the Social Security Administration

The Senate Special Committee on Aging hosted a hearing titled “Keeping Our Promise to Older Adults and People with Disabilities: The Status of Social Security Today,” featuring Martin O’Malley, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA). O’Malley opened by saying the SSA faces significant challenges due to increased demand for services coupled with decreased staffing levels. After a FY 2018-2021 budget freeze, a $785 million funding increase in FY 2023 helped rebuild staff levels. However, due to a continuing resolution in FY 2024, hiring stopped, leading to a staffing decline and potential all-time low of around 55,000 staff.

Despite the lack of sufficient funding, O’Malley said the SSA has prioritized addressing challenges in service delivery. Through extensive engagement with employees and stakeholders nationwide via town halls and field visits, they gathered insights and ideas. By implementing quick fixes and long-term strategies such as technology upgrades and streamlined processes, SSA aims to improve both employee and customer experiences through reduced wait times and enhanced efficiency. Additionally, plans for increased onsite presence and automated data exchange demonstrate a commitment to innovation and responsiveness to feedback, ultimately enhancing the agency’s ability to serve the public effectively.

O’Malley emphasized that President Biden’s FY 2025 Budget proposal for SSA highlights the urgent need for increased funding to address staffing shortages and improve customer service. With a requested budget of $15.4 billion, the agency aims to restore staffing levels, reduce wait times for services such as the National 800 Number, and process more disability claims promptly. Approval of the budget would enable significant improvements in staffing, service delivery, and backlog reduction efforts, ultimately benefiting millions of beneficiaries.

Subscribe to the Policy and Advocacy Radar to receive our biweekly policy roundup, which includes commentary on issues in Social Current’s federal policy agenda, opportunities to take action, and curated news and opportunities.

We are pleased to announce Social Current’s strategic plan priorities and goals for 2024-2026. Guided by our mission, vision, and values, the plan is a culmination of months of planning that included meaningful engagement of key stakeholders including board, staff, and network organizations. The process focused on the identification of and building on strengths, while also identifying potential challenges and opportunities to create a realistic strategic plan to support our organization in being nimble and responsive in today’s fast-changing environment.

From 2024 to 2026, our four core strategic priorities are focused on:

  • Solutions
  • Network engagement
  • Organizational development
  • Financial sustainability

Learn more about the process as well as our strategic priorities and goals.

According to OSHA’s 2019 statistics, “healthcare and social assistance workers in private industry experienced workplace-violence-related injuries at an estimated incidence rate of 10.4 per 10,000 full-time workers – for a total of 14,550 nonfatal injuries.” The rates are even higher for psychiatric, substance abuse, and residential mental health care facilities. Despite these staggering statistics, OSHA does not have a specific standard on workplace violence for employers. Currently, the General Duty Clause found in Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH ACT of 1970 is enforced in situations involving workplace violence. Most citations issued by OSHA’s compliance officers due to workplace violence typically involve the health care industry.

This has led OSHA to focus on the early development stages of a new workplace violence standard. In March 2023, OSHA called together a Small Business Advocacy Review (SBAR) panel. They received representation from organizations in industry sectors such as hospitals, residential behavioral health facilities, residential care facilities, home health care, emergency medical services, social assistance, correctional health settings, ambulatory mental health care, ambulatory substance abuse treatment centers, and freestanding emergency centers. OSHA identified potential topics in the draft standard to be considered by the panel, including:

  • A programmatic approach to workplace violence prevention
  • Workplace violence hazard assessments
  • Workplace violence control measures
  • Preventive training
  • Violent incident investigations and recordkeeping
  • Antiretaliatory provisions
  • Approaches that avoid stigmatization of health care patients and social assistance clients

While the exact rollout date of the new standard is unknown at this time, employers can proactively begin evaluating their organization’s current prevention program. The following measures can be implemented or reviewed for effectiveness:

Written Procedures: Organizations should begin by developing a policy on workplace violence containing zero tolerance. The policy can be a standalone policy, part of the organization’s safety manual, or it can become part of the employee handbook. The policy should begin by expressing management’s commitment, as well as stressing the importance of employee participation. Other items to be included in the written policy include hazard identification, hazard prevention and control, training, and recordkeeping.

Hazard Assessment: Consider all possible hazards that may lead to an instance of workplace violence, including recent terminations that may have been particularly difficult. Conduct a walkthrough inspection of your facility and grounds to determine the security of all entry points. Are doors left propped open during breaks? Are windows latched and locked? What areas need further securement?

Physical Controls: These are referred to as ‘engineering’ or physical controls used to reduce or eliminate workplace violence hazards:

  • Keyless door entries and buzzer systems with cameras in the reception area
  • Convex mirrors at the end of hallways that expand visibility for safety
  • Panic buttons mounted under desks or attached to a breakaway lanyard that immediately alert local law enforcement of emergencies
  • The arrangement of furniture to avoid entrapment
  • Safe rooms that can be used during lockdown situations
  • Adequate lighting in the parking lot and around the building perimeter
  • Door defense systems, such as door jams based upon the swing or hinge of the door

Administrative Controls:

  • Ensure doors leading to counseling or administrative offices are kept locked; employees should always escort clients, patients, consumers, or other visitors to and from the reception area
  • Reach out to local police and emergency responders; provide them with a current copy of your building schematics and invite them to your facility to become familiar with the layout and offer security advice
  • Conduct annual training and regular drills
  • Provide a system for employees to report incidents or potential incidents without fear of retaliation; it should include a timeframe for a response to the reporter on the outcome of the investigation and any action(s) taken

For more information and helpful resources, OSHA provides guidance on workplace violence prevention programs, or please reach out to Lisa Bellis, senior vice president of risk management & loss control at Brown & Brown, at 610-348-7986.

Social Current’s Strategic Industry Partners, like Brown & Brown, offer specialized products or services that benefit our network. To learn more about partnering with Social Current, contact us.

It is Brain Awareness Week, a global campaign to share the impact of brain science on our everyday lives, and an opportunity to explore how brain science concepts impact our trauma-informed and equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI)-focused work. We know we cannot be trauma-informed without being antiracist. But our efforts at this intersection remain siloed. Within human services organizations, this work is often defined and carried out by separate trauma-informed and antiracist committees and can be hampered by limited understanding of how to integrate the two at the individual and organizational levels.

At the intersection of EDI and brain science we wrestle with trauma-informed concepts, such as power differentials, psychological safety, difficult conversations, implicit bias, vulnerability, and healing. With a stronger understanding of brain science, we strengthen our capacities for mindfulness and cultural humility, develop our own racial identity, boost our self-regulation skills and compassion for self and others, and advance a healing journey that includes our whole body.

Translating Knowledge into Action

One opportunity for deep impact is rooting all EDI work in a foundation of basic brain science concepts. The brain impacts our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors during every second of our day. Our brains are designed to keep us safe, constantly monitoring our surroundings and putting up “fight or flight” barriers when we experience things that are new or different. Yet, we are also social beings, craving connection and belonging. The brain’s primary function of keeping us safe can sometimes conflict with our human need to connect. This conflict impacts our EDI efforts, our ability to bridge differences, and our efforts to heal from trauma, especially the trauma of white supremacy. With a deeper understanding of basic brain science concepts, we become more aware of opportunities and strategies to quiet our brain’s safety function so we can connect, integrate our trauma-informed and equity initiatives, and advance our personal and organizational EDI efforts.

Resmaa Menakem, therapist, trauma specialist, and author of My Grandmother’s Hands and The Quaking of America, teaches that healing from centuries of racial trauma for all bodies requires an embodied approach, one that recognizes the interconnectedness of mind, body, and spirit. Today, white supremacy is our operating system—it’s the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the foods we eat. It’s embedded in our institutions and social contracts. Most of all, though, white supremacy lives in our bodies, which is why Menakem uses the term, “white-body supremacy.”

Menakem teaches that white body supremacy, “and all the claims, accusations, excuses, and dodges that surround it — are a trauma response … and we need to heal from it by starting with our bodies.” Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism notes, “White Supremacy is not rational, and we don’t heal it with our intellect alone.”

So, what does this mean for our EDI and trauma-informed efforts? Here are two strategies that incorporate these concepts and get us thinking about making changes in our daily practices.

Regulate, Regulate, Regulate
Regulation is the basic strategy for calming the defensive and reactive parts of our brain so that we can access the more receptive, open, learning parts. Focused breathing, taking a short walk, listening to music, using a standing desk are all ways to keep our mind clear and focused. There are dozens of regulation strategies to use in the work setting, both for large groups and individuals.

Dr. Bruce Perry’s sequence of engagement – regulate, relate, reason – is a simple practice for effective communication that starts with regulation. The steps work in this order:

  1. Regulate: First, ensure we are calm and centered before we start talking. You and your colleagues can use regulation strategies that work for you.
  2. Relate: Next, connect human to human. Ask a colleague, “What are you looking forward to?” “What are you worried about?” “What are you thinking about today?”
  3. Reason: Finally, move to the content of the conversation – to do lists, a pending project, or complex equity dynamics in a work relationship.

When we do this at every meeting, supervision session, and human interaction, especially the hard ones we avoid, we have greater success in our communications. We move closer to achieving the EDI and trauma-informed outcomes we strive for—candid conversations, individual and organizational accountability, and inclusive environments.

Somatic and Embodied Practices

Somatic means related to the body. Embodied signifies feeling at home and safe in our body, an increased ability to be in our body in the present moment and to feel all its sensations. Somatic embodied practices build our awareness of our brain’s safety functions and help us to quiet those strong impulses, which strengthens our ability to connect and belong.

It turns out that somatic, embodied practices are critically important in our EDI work. Resmaa Menakem’s Somatic Abolitionism teaches us that, “Race has its unique charge, texture, weight, and speed. The ability to hold and work with these energies isn’t inborn. It needs to be acquired through effort and practice.” Somatic abolitionism is living, embodied antiracist practice and cultural building—a way of being in the world.
Menakem suggests healing from white body supremacy starts with the practice of five anchors:

  1. Settle the body
  2. Notice the sensations without reacting
  3. Accept the discomfort and sit with it
  4. Remain present and experience the uncertainty
  5. Safely discharge any energy that remains

Menakem teaches that we can strengthen our muscles for practicing these five anchors through repetition of cultural somatic practices including grounding, orientation, movement, touch and pause.

Using somatic and embodied practices are not an overnight fix. Healing from white supremacy, for all bodies, is a lifelong journey. But understanding that healing starts by focusing on our bodies puts us on a new path to exploring our EDI work and integrating it with our trauma-informed efforts.

The needs of human services staff and complexities of our work require us to embrace new ways of being at work. Embedding brain science concepts into our daily interactions could have many benefits. The good news is there are countless ways, as individuals and organizations, to prioritize brain-friendly and healing practices. When we do this, we will help settle our bodies and brains, bridge differences, increase connection, improve equity and accountability, and truly integrate our trauma-informed and equity-focused efforts to reach the outcomes we are so hungry to achieve. The biggest challenge may be taking the first step to get started.

Next Steps in Applying Brain Science to Your EDI Efforts

To learn more about the brain and how it advances our equity efforts, join our upcoming learning series – Hardwired for Fear and Connection: The Intersection of Brain Science and Equity – which starts March 19. In this three-part series we will focus on the intersection of brain science and EDI and its application for our daily work. We will build shared understanding of foundational brain friendly and EDI concepts and consider how our daily EDI efforts are interrupted by our key brain functions often outside of our consciousness. Additionally, we will share concrete strategies for increasing self-awareness, quieting our lower brains, having difficult conversations, understanding power differentials, and increasing felt safety in our work setting, and advancing somatic-embodied approaches.

Other ways that Social Current can help with our EDI and trauma-informed journeys:

  • Consultation: Learning collaboratives, one-on-one consultation, and learning series offer specially designed experiences to create brain-science informed partnerships with staff that improve engagement, retention, and communication; focus on sustainable culture change; and reframe challenges as opportunities to grow and become stronger.
  • Knowledge & Insights: The Knowledge and Insights Center disseminates a robust collection of research and resources, including curation on brain science research and applications. Services are available through the Social Current Impact Partnerships as well as separate subscriptions to the Resources Portal and custom research projects.
  • Learning: Through the Learning Exchange, national experts explain brain science research and give practical recommendations for implementing and sustaining practices that support employees, improve performance, and increase the success of organizational outcomes. Examples include Core Strategies for Workforce Well-Being and Resilience.

In a fiery State of the Union speech on Thursday night, President Joe Biden defended his record and laid out his vision for the future. While he tackled major issues in the news, such as immigration, foreign policy, and crime, he also dedicated substantial time to issues like health care, education, and housing.

President Biden highlighted progress in implementing Medicare drug price negotiations, fulfilling a longstanding Democratic ambition enshrined in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). With ongoing negotiations for 10 drugs, Biden emphasized potential cost reductions for seniors and positive impacts on the federal budget. He called for an ambitious expansion to 500 drug price negotiations over the next decade. He praised other provisions in the IRA like capping insulin prices at $35 as well as limiting Medicare out-of-pocket drug expenses to $2,000, and he urged Congress to extend these measures.

President Biden also outlined his administration’s education priorities, focusing on raising teacher pay, bolstering early childhood education, and expanding tutoring and career readiness programs. The agenda aims to address chronic absenteeism, promote universal pre-kindergarten, and alleviate student debt through initiatives such as the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. According to the administration, in the last three years, 800,000 people qualified for the PSLF program.

In the speech, President Biden revealed new housing policy initiatives, proposing tax credits to support first-time homebuyers and incentivize home sellers. The plan includes a $5,000 per year credit for middle-class first-time buyers for two years, effectively reducing mortgage rates by over 1.5 percentage points. Additionally, the president proposed a one-year credit of up to $10,000 for selling starter homes below the county median price to stimulate activity in the sluggish housing market.

Sources: KFF Health News, Washington Post, and Education Week.

Administration Proposes New Rule on Child Care Subsidies

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has introduced a new rule aimed at lowering child care costs and enhancing options for families receiving subsidies. This rule, which is in line with President Biden’s April 2023 executive order on increasing access to high-quality care and supporting caregivers, makes crucial updates to the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF), the nation’s primary funding source for child care affordability and quality improvement. Key provisions of the rule include capping family child care payments at 7% of household income, expanding child care choices, ensuring timely payments to providers, and simplifying application processes for families. By implementing these changes, HHS estimates around 100,000 children will benefit from reduced child care expenses. In separate statements, Vice President Kamala Harris and HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra emphasized the administration’s commitment to affordable child care, highlighting the importance of these measures in supporting working families and child care providers alike.

WIC Gets More Funding, Child Tax Credit Expansion Still in Limbo

On March 6, aiming to prevent a government shutdown before the Friday deadline, the House of Representatives passed a $460 billion spending package to fund half of federal agencies. Due to opposition from some House Republicans, Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) had to use an unusual process which required a two thirds majority to pass the bill. The package passed 339-85. The Senate also passed the bill and President Biden signed it into law on Saturday. The bill incorporated key Democratic priorities, including a $1 billion increase to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), additionally staving off attempts to limit the purchase of certain items within the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

This agreement averts an immediate shutdown and ensures government operations continue. However, the new deadline is March 22 and challenges remain in reconciling differences over contentious issues within remaining spending bills. For example, Sen. Mike Crapo has expressed strong opposition to a $78 billion tax bill that would expand the child tax credit. Crapo criticized proposed changes to the Child Tax Credit, expressing concerns over potential implications for workforce participation and describing the bill as a shift from family tax relief to government subsidy. Amidst these debates, the path forward in the Senate remains uncertain, highlighting ongoing challenges in reaching bipartisan consensus on critical fiscal matters.

McConnell To Step Down as Senate Leader

Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the longest-serving Senate leader, announced his plans to leave the position in November, marking the end of an era in American politics. McConnell, age 82, revealed his decision in the Senate chamber, reflecting on his journey from obscurity to leadership. His resignation marks a significant ideological shift within the Republican Party, transitioning from traditional conservatism in the style of Ronald Reagan to the populism of Donald Trump.

McConnell emphasized he plans to complete his Senate term, which extends until January 2027. His decision came amid mounting pressure from within his party, particularly from the faction aligned with Trump.

Notably, McConnell’s relationship with Trump soured after the 2020 election, culminating in McConnell’s blame of Trump for the Capitol riot. Despite criticism from within his party, McConnell remained steadfast in his convictions.

Throughout his tenure, McConnell wielded considerable influence, reshaping the federal judiciary and championing conservative policies. Despite his polarizing reputation, McConnell leaves a lasting legacy in the Senate, characterized by his strategic acumen and dedication to his party.

Looking ahead, McConnell acknowledged the need for new leadership in the Senate, signaling a generational shift. While his departure is the end of an era, McConnell remains dedicated to his role.

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