View From Washington

Looking for New Champions

By Brent Ewig, MHS
Director of Public Policy & Government Affairs, AMCHP     

We all know the textbook definition of an MCH leader as someone who “inspires and brings people together to achieve sustainable results to improve the lives of the MCH population…” Maybe it’s just because it’s election season, but when applying this definition to our modern politics one can’t help feeling disappointed by the minimal focus on “bringing people together.” Rather, seems everywhere you look, the national mood seems marked by sharp polarization and lack of national unity. 

But taking the long view, there are numerous examples of where inspired leadership stepped forward to improve the lives of the MCH population. In this column coinciding with our 75th anniversary commemoration of the Title V MCH program, I’d like to share three of my favorite examples:

The first White House Conference on Children: Convened a century ago by Republican president Theodore Roosevelt the first White House Conference on Children is a great example of how the bully pulpit can be used to focus attention on important issues. This conference set in motion the founding of the first federal Children’s Bureau which created a focal point within government to investigate and report on the status of mothers and children. It was this focus on using data to stimulate action that set the gold standard for how MCH leaders have inspired change and progress for the past century. 

Passage of the Social Security Act in 1935: This of course has to be the centerpiece of any reflection in this anniversary year. Indeed, the inclusion of Title V in the Social Security Act provided the foundation of a federal commitment to work with states to assure the health of all women and children. Spurred by the crises of the Great Depression and no doubt thanks to the deft leadership of President Franklin Roosevelt, this milestone is also an example of the possibility for national leaders to come together in common cause. Although not without controversy, only 39 of the 524 members of Congress voted against the Social Security Act in 1935 - an astonishing example of bi-partisanship so rarely seen today. 

Passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965: Building upon the Social Security Act, the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965 marked the continued call to action to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable among us. Providing the framework for health insurance coverage for all elderly and the most vulnerable low-income Americans, advocacy for these programs began in the Truman Administration and eventually signed into law by President Johnson again reveal a stunning level of unity bi-partisanship with only 140 out of 533 Members of Congress voted against their creation in 1964.   

All the focus on bi-partisan achievement begs the obvious question – will passage of the Affordable Care Act along strictly party lines in 2010 inhibit its chances of becoming a pillar of American policy as the previous bi-partisan examples suggests? I’ll certainly leave that question to the political analysts and historians.  

In the meantime, it’s fitting in this 75th anniversary year to ask who will be the future champions of the Title V MCH Services Block Grant? You would think a program created with bi-partisan support by FDR and bearing the stamp of the Reagan administration would engender bi-partisan support today. Sadly, we are all too well aware that funding for the Title V MCH Block Grant has actually declined by nearly $70 million over the past eight years.  

Here’s where we need your help and leadership! We’ve seen first hand over the past few years how funding has suffered because of a lack of members of Congress stepping forward to say this is a priority for their district or state. With the constant pressure to fund health programs by body part or disease, the focus on supporting entities like Title V that take a systems approach have suffered. To counter this, AMCHP’s goal remains to heighten the profile of Title V on Capitol Hill and work with individual members and friends to advocate with elected officials from both sides of the aisle to become champions of this long-standing centerpiece of federal public health legislation.   

Please join us as we seek new champions to carry on the legacy of the Title V MCH Block Grant and look to inspire the leadership needed to assure another successful 75 years!