NEW YORK – March is National Professional Social Work Month, when social workers around the country raise awareness of the important roles they fill.
With masters’ degrees and thousands of hours of supervised training, licensed clinical social workers are the number-one providers of mental health services in New York state. Nationally, there’s a shortage of social workers, and their average salaries are much lower than other similarly licensed professions.
Samantha Howell, executive director at the New York Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, said many have difficulty paying off student loans and supporting their families.
“We’re constantly struggling to raise awareness about the fact that they do bring a specific, unique and much-needed skill set,” Howell said. “And that should be recognized in several ways – including adequate compensation.”
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New York social workers are in schools, hospitals and a variety of public agencies, often carrying huge caseloads. The NASW is calling its 2019 campaign “Elevate Social Work,” highlighting the critical functions social workers perform on a daily basis.
Nationally, social workers are paid an average of $10,000-$15,000 a year less than nurses and teachers. Dr. Angelo McClain, CEO of the NASW’s national organization, said part of the problem is the fee structure built into Medicare.
“Currently, social workers are reimbursed at 75 percent of the physician fee schedule,” McClain said. “Social work is the only profession that’s reimbursed at a rate lower than 85 percent.”
The Improving Access to Mental Health Act, to be introduced in Congress this year, would raise social worker compensation to 85 percent.
Howell emphasized that social workers have impact far beyond the immediate clients they serve.
“I can guarantee that every New Yorker has been touched by a social worker, they’ve been affected by a social worker and may not even realize it,” Howell said, “because of the breadth of service provided in this field.”
She added that raising compensation is an important step toward ensuring there will be enough licensed, trained social workers available to meet the needs of all New Yorkers.