More than 100 psychologists and graduate students from 39 states participated in over 160 meetings with House and Senate members and staffs, to urge their support for legislation that would provide loan forgiveness for psychologists providing services or conducting COVID-related research during the pandemic, supporting the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, and permit psychologists to refinance both federal and private student loans.

The summit brought together advocates from 23 state psychological associations, the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students, the Committee on Early Career Psychologists, nine divisions, as well as experienced grassroots advocacy leaders from across the country to support the current and future psychology workforce.  

APA President Sandra Shullman, PhD; APA CEO Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD; APA Chief Education Officer Catherine Grus, PhD; and APA Chief Advocacy Officer Katherine McGuire, MS, opened the summit, welcoming participants and highlighting the critical advocacy work of APA throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. They stressed the importance of continued advocacy for psychology students and early career psychologists.  

APAGS Chair Blanka Angyal, MA, and Advocacy Coordinating Committee member Ayli Carrero Pinedo, MA, joined APA Board of Educational Affairs Chair Melanie Wilcox, PhD, in a panel discussion about the impact of increasing student loan debt on students and early career psychologists, and the consequences it has for the nation’s access to mental health services.

In response to a question about the burden of student debt, Angyal said: “COVID-19 adds another level or burden, in addition to the emotional and cognitive burden of what it means to owe that much money; like the concern about safety, the concern about meeting educational milestones, and what these mean in our current economic climate in terms of us being able to earn money to be able to pay back those loans. In a report about the impact of COVID-19, prepared in collaboration with Division 44 (The Society for the Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity), 86% of folx who responded said that financial stress and career impact were one of the most concerning things that they were dealing with during COVID-19. I am sure everyone else in the training and professional community is feeling it too, but there is a disproportionate effect on graduate students and on international, BIPOC, LGBTQ+, neurodiverse students, and on women. I think we have to think very intersectionally and contextually [about student loans/debt].”

APA Senior Director of Congressional and Federal Relations Kenneth Polishchuk provided a briefing on the legislative requests participants would be asking their congressional delegations to support. This included three pieces of federal legislation that seek to reduce the burden of student loans and incentivize public service: the Protecting Access to Loan Forgiveness for Public Servants During the COVID-19 Pandemic Act (H.R. 7761); the Student Loan Forgiveness for Frontline Health Workers Act (H.R. 6720); and the Bank on Students Coronavirus Emergency Loan Refinancing Act (H.R. 7449/S. 4141).

Congressional Management Foundation’s President and CEO Brad Fitch, MA, joined APA’s Senior Directors of Congressional and Federal Relations Alix Ginsberg, MPH, and Scott Barstow, MS; Senior Science Policy Officer Craig Fisher, PsyD; and APAGS Chair-elect Mary Fernandes, MS, for an Advocacy 101 session, which included a mock Capitol Hill visit, followed by a discussion on how to effectively communicate with policymakers, conference call etiquette, and the importance of personal anecdotes when meeting with congressional representatives.

The Advocacy Summit’s second day included a robust agenda with small team preparation and additional breakout sessions focused on such topics as the role of state psychological associations in federal and state advocacy, strategic communications, developing relationships with members of congress, perspectives from former Capitol Hill staff, and the value of the Psychology Political Action Committee.

In discussing the importance of state advocacy, Nanci Klein, PhD, director of professional affairs for the Utah Psychological Association stated: “It is crucial that you work with and support your state psychological association because it’s the one who represents you at your particular state legislature… [Additionally,] it is very important to form coalitions and to work in coalitions. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, so working together with other disciplines is extremely powerful.”

Attendees then met in their respective state delegations to develop their materials, strategy, and talking points for delivering the Summit’s three legislative asks in their Oct. 15 meetings with Congress.

APA continues to advance these and other critical advocacy priorities and has successfully leveraged new technological tools during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that psychology’s voice is heard. 

For more information, contact Raegina Likewise.