A consortium of over 90 nonprofit social service organizations from across New York State has announced that they are uniting to fight for "the right to employ licensed social workers and other mental health professionals without fear of criminal prosecution."
At issue are provisions of state law which restrict corporations, including nonprofit agencies, from employing licensed professionals. These restrictions expanded to include social workers – Licensed Master Social Workers (LMSWs) and Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs) -- once licensing went into effect for these professions.
SED asserts that a provision of the Education Law, which makes it a felony for any unlicensed person to “hold himself out as being able to practice any profession,” prohibits nonprofits from employing licensed professionals like social workers. The consortium of nonprofits contests that interpretation, and asserts that they are simply holding themselves out as employing licensed professionals, not as practicing the profession themselves.
“No civilized society makes it a felony for nonprofits to hire licensed social workers to care for the needy,” said David Nocenti, Executive Director of Union Settlement Association, a major social service provider in East Harlem. “Unless this law is changed, it will continue to have an adverse impact on residents throughout New York State, particularly in poor and underserved communities that rely upon social service organizations to provide crucial assistance to the needy.”
"A contorted interpretation of the law should not place nonprofits seeking to offer quality services to vulnerable New Yorkers in this kind of legal jeopardy” said Shelly Nortz, Deputy Executive Director for Policy with Coalition for the Homeless. “Nor should the job security of licensees be placed at risk by a state agency that plays no part in administering or financing human services."
In a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo, Speaker Sheldon Silver, Majority Leader Dean Skelos and SED Chancellor Merryl Tisch, they ask that social workers be given the same exemption that pharmacists, optometrists and others already enjoy.
“The social work licensing law is a real-life example of the law of unintended consequences,” said Michael Stoller, Executive Director of the Human Services Council. “Should the State Legislature not make these needed changes, the entire system of human services could be severely disrupted with adverse impacts to providing agencies, their direct care workforce, and, most importantly, the vulnerable clients we serve.”
“The social work licensing law, as interpreted by the State Education Department, has the potential to cripple many of the social service agencies that FPWA works with, disrupting vital services to those in need across the city and placing significant burdens on already struggling non-profit agencies,” said Fatima Goldman, Executive Director/CEO of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies. “This law should be overturned immediately to avoid severe consequences, which were never intended when the law was enacted.”
Advocates argue that the State Legislature has granted many exemptions from this law in the past, including allowing both nonprofits and other corporate entities to employ pharmacists, optometrists, massage therapists and others, but not social workers. The argue that provisions authorizing SED to grant individual waivers to agencies applying before February 1, 2012 were problematic for a variety of reasons.
“We are asking the Governor and the Legislature to take action to do exactly what they say they want to do: end useless government mandates which protect no one, cause a great deal of meaningless paperwork, waste money, and expose hundreds of nonprofit agencies to legal liability for doing work that in many instances their government licenses and contracts require them to do” said Jim Purcell, CEO of the Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies.
Click here to read a copy of the letter and see the entire list of agency signatories.