Tennessee MFTs Added to Loan Reimbursement Program
The Tennessee Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (TNAMFT) is proud to announce a key victory that strengthens our profession. The Tennessee Department of Health (DOH) recently confirmed the addition of MFTs as eligible applicants under the Tennessee State Loan Repayment Program (TSLRP). TNAMFT is proud of the considerable teamwork and ongoing lobbying efforts that were consistently enacted over a two-year period in order to accomplish our goal of inclusion.
As a result, we were able to highlight the merits of marriage and family therapists in the eyes of the Department of Health, state officials, and the legislators that we engaged. We immersed MFT students in the advocacy process. We also created meaningful win-win opportunities: financial relief for our emerging professionals with considerable loan debt in exchange for a dedicated period of service to consumers in the most underserved areas of our state.
So how did we do this?
In 2018 the Tennessee Department of Health added mental health specialists to the list of eligible disciplines for its shared loan repayment program. This extension is in light of information it received from the 2016 Rural Task Force and advocacy related to the growing suicide rate, opioid abuse, and health impact of adverse childhood experiences. As many of you well know, MFTs are often excluded from opportunities afforded other mental health disciplines, so we decided to take the initiative. Under the strategic leadership of lobbyist Jenny Ford, we embraced a two-prong approach to ensure the addition of MFTs to this list of eligible disciplines: advocacy within the state government and engagement of the legislative process.
Research and Preparation
Being mindful of this consistent exclusion and the growing financial burdens of our emerging professionals, TNAMFT prioritized student loan reimbursement as an advocacy goal and began our work. We researched current laws and previous advocacy efforts from other states. During the 2018 legislative session we sought out key legislators for strategic feedback and vetted potential bill sponsors. Later in the year, we arranged meetings with gubernatorial candidate teams and preferred bill sponsors to advocate for our practitioners. Our lobbyist led us in a full year of appointments and prep work before we ever engaged in formal meetings - this was both humbling and instructive!
Advocating with the DOT
TNAMFT and our lobbyist met formally with state officials from the Department of Health beginning in January of 2019. Over the next few months, we explored the pathways and roadblocks for access to student loan relief for MFTs. When the TSLRP was identified as a strong pathway, the DOH signaled its willingness to consider MFT eligibility. The DOH requested current data that spring about the credentialing, locales, and practice trends of marriage and family therapists in Tennessee. We then collected data from AAMFT, a state-wide survey of marriage and family therapists, and tabulations of MFT providers in HPSAs in a report which we submitted to the Department of Health in October of 2019.
Engaging the Legislative Process
Additionally, TNAMFT solicited sponsors as an alternative means to accomplish this goal in the case that the application within the DOH proved unsuccessful. Senator Jeff Yarbro and Representative Vincent Dixie filed legislation SB771/HB879 to ensure our stance and create more advocacy opportunities. We then amplified our advocacy efforts with our TNAMFT Day on the Hill participants, emphasizing on student involvement. MFTs advocated for student loan reimbursement in February of 2019 and again in February of 2020. Our lobbyist received the final word on our success - after two years of labor, the DOH had added MFTs to the list of eligible providers.
The TNAMFT Board is grateful to our lobbyist, Legislative Committee, and its member advocates for collaborating in a success effort to champion our profession in Tennessee.