FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: New York State Ends 14-Year Licensure Exemption and Brings State Agencies into Compliance with Licensing Laws


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                                     

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New York State Ends 14-Year Licensure Exemption and Brings State Agencies into Compliance with Licensing Laws

NYS Social Workers Applaud the Governor and NYS Legislature’s Action to Ensure Equal Access to Quality Care for All New Yorkers


(ALBANY, NY, March 30, 2018) — Just moments ago, the legislature passed the Health and Mental Hygiene budget bill, which finally provides a permanent solution to the state’s licensure exemption for those providing mental health services. After many years of battling, the legislation calls for full implementation of the 2002 social work and other licensed mental health provider licensing laws and requires only qualified licensed professionals be the ones to provide diagnosis and treatment of serious mental illness.

The measure effectively ends a 14-year licensure exemption that has allowed seven state agencies (Office of Mental Health (OMH), Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS), Office for Children and Family Services (OCFS), Office for the Aging (SOFA), Department of Health (DOH), and Department of Corrections and Community Services (DOCCS)) to hire unlicensed employees to provide mental health services, including diagnosis and treatment of serious mental illnesses, despite not having the same extensive education and external legal standards of professional conduct as licensed professionals.

The measure rightfully ends the exemption while simultaneously guarding against service delivery disruptions as it comprehensively articulates the many areas of practice that do not require a license, such as participation on a multi-disciplinary team, peer services, general information collection and engagement with a client, and general advisement on non-behavioral health issues.

This legislation has garnered strong support from the state’s leading social work organizations, including the New York State and New York City Chapters of the National Association of Social Workers and the New York State Society for Clinical Social Work. Ending this exemption is a strong step toward improving the quality of mental health care for all New Yorkers — regardless of whether they are accessing services through state agencies or private insurance.

“NASW-NYS is thrilled that the Governor and Legislature have finally put a permanent end to the licensure exemption, which allowed unlicensed individuals to provide mental illness diagnosis and treatment,” said Samantha Howell, Esq., Executive Director of the National Association of Social Workers – New York State Chapter (NASW-NYS). “We firmly believe in the excellence of our profession and applaud the standards set by the legislature 16 years ago, when it determined to require licensure for social workers. Today, we celebrate the knowledge that all New Yorkers will have access to licensed, appropriately trained and supervised professionals.”

“The underserved clientele that the New York State agencies serve deserve the most qualified licensed professionals to provide treatment and diagnosis,” said Mark Buttiglieri, LCSW-R, President of NASW-NYS. “As an employer of licensed social workers in Central New York, the passage of this exemption bolsters our profession.”

“Why does good social policy take so long? Finally, we are moving toward the same mental health care for all New York citizens independent of their financial means,” said Marsha Wineburgh, DSW, Legislative Chair of the New York State Society for Clinical Social Work (NYSSCSW).

“It is critical that all New Yorkers in need of mental health services be diagnosed by a provider that is licensed to diagnose. This is an issue that is steeped in social justice. This exemption has been on the books for too long, keeping a bifurcated system in place that privileges specific groups over others,” said Candida Brooks-Harrison, LCSW, President of the National Association of Social Workers – New York City Chapter (NASW-NYC). “We thank the Governor and the Legislature for putting equity back in New York’s mental health care.”


Ending a 14-Year Tradition of Inequality

In 2002, after more than 28 years of negotiation between the legislature, stakeholder provider groups, and trade associations, the practice of social work became one of the state’s licensed professions. In doing so, a minimum standard of education, experience, and exam requirements were established to ensure that individuals providing mental health services were qualified to do so.

At the time, state agencies alleged that it would be too costly and burdensome to meet the licensing requirement, so an extension was given. Since then, state agencies have continued to receive repeated extensions (the last one passing in the 2015-16 budget), claiming licensed social workers are too expensive and too rare to hire for positions, and arguing many workers would likely be unwilling to invest in the training required to become licensed.

As a result, New Yorkers accessing mental health services through the state (often the most economically disadvantaged and marginalized of our communities) were often left to gamble on whether they would be seen by a qualified mental health practitioner. It created two tiers of care for mental health services, favoring those with insurance and wealth. In addition to devaluing the requirements set forth by law and putting New Yorkers at-risk of being seen by an unlicensed provider, this exemption rendered the professional standards moot.

Currently, the licensure exemption is set to expire on July 1, 2018. Enactment of this statute will commence one year after the New York State Education Department issues the required regulations.


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Amelia Lochner Malavé
Author: Amelia Lochner Malavé