Methods. We used policy mapping methodology (e.g., Bowen & Irish, 2019) to identify legislative proposals from the 116th U.S. Congress. Consulting with a librarian, we used the “Advanced Search” feature in Congress.gov, using the Legislative Subject Term “Climate change and greenhouse gases” and a keyword list for groups of interest to social work (e.g., vulnerable, marginalized, people of color, children, homeless, etc.). For companion bills introduced in both chambers, we kept the first version introduced. We screened results for study relevance; of 94 proposals initially retrieved, 50 were included for analysis.
Results. Of included proposals, 68% supported adaptation to climate change (e.g., coping with impacts), and 56% addressed mitigation of climate change (e.g., reducing greenhouse gases). Groups mentioned most frequently were “low-income” (68%), “minorities” or “people/communities of color” (48%), Tribes or Tribal nations (42%), “vulnerable” or “disadvantaged” or “marginalized” groups (40%), and women or gender-related groups (36%). Groups mentioned least were people who are homeless (12%), incarcerated (8%), or foster youth (2%). While some proposals (20%) were symbolic (e.g., calling attention to the issue), the remaining 80% included material provisions that would allocate resources or change processes. Over half (56%) required new federal spending. Almost all (88%) were introduced by a Democrat, and only 20% had bipartisan co-sponsorship. Progress of proposals through Congress was scant—the most recent actions were referred to committee or clotured (84%), committee hearing held (6%), passed committee (2%), and passed one chamber (8%).
Conclusions and Implications. In the 116th Congress, numerous proposals were introduced at the nexus of climate change and social justice. Importantly, both adaptation to and mitigation of climate change were proposed. A lack of bipartisan support and the requirements for new spending are challenges to overcome, though, with few proposals making progress toward becoming law. Social workers should increase their pursuit of federal policies that protect people and advance social justice in the face of the climate crisis. Next steps for social work advocacy can include raising awareness, pursuing bipartisan support, calling for committee hearings, and providing testimony at hearings.
Bowen, E. A., & Irish, A. (2019). A policy mapping analysis of goals, target populations, and punitive notions in the US congressional response to the opioid epidemic. International Journal of Drug Policy, 74, 90-97.