A Social Worker’s Survival Guide to Budget Week at the Texas Legislature

Editor’s Note: This post and the post below both focus on interns’ experiences during “Budget Week,” the intense period of time during which the Texas House of Representatives debated and voted on their version of the state’s biennial (two-year) budget and the various amendments proposed by members. Debate lasted for over 15 hours on Thursday, April 6 and the early hours of Friday, April 7, before the House approved its version of the budget around 2 a.m., by a vote of 131-16. The House and Senate must now reconcile the differences between the funding priorities of each body, in order to adopt a final state budget.

by Elizabeth Hann, intern in the Texas Legislative Study Group

As Social Workers, we don’t like to talk numbers – unless it’s about caseloads. We don’t get into the social work profession for the money, although, we are happy when it comes our way. From my own experiences, it seems that a lot of the time we lose sight of the role that money plays in our ability to serve our clients. A couple weeks ago in the Texas Legislature, I experienced what is known in the Texas House of Representatives as “Budget Week”. This is the week in which the proposed budget and all of the amendments are filed, scrutinized, analyzed, and eventually voted on by the members of the House.

While the bulk of the attention to the budget process focuses on just one day and night on the House Floor, for the Legislative Study Group (LSG) – it was a full week. We spent hours poring over the 402 filed amendments, reading and analyzing each one to ultimately be published as a Floor Report and distributed to the representatives. Our main budget point person, Joel Kissell, did an amazing job analyzing the main 1,000+ page budget bill while the rest of the staff of social work interns attempted to figure out all the amendments. Without Joel, we definitely would have been lost.

We left the office past 2:00 a.m. every night that week. Now – just imagine – 10 sleep deprived social workers huddled in a room trying to make sense of fiscal notes, cost deficits, and general revenue funds. It was certainly a sight to see. With printers racing and phones ringing as we’re all frantically typing – we couldn’t even be bothered to check the clock.

Our budget week bender just about had us praying for a dark hole to crawl into, but at the end of the week – we had survived. For those coming after us – at the LSG or even in other legislative placements experiencing a similar stressful process – I have decided to write down some of the self-care tools we utilized to survive the long hours, lack of sleep, and extreme pressure we were under that week.

Survival Tip #1: Make a group plan beforehand

The Monday of budget week we all sat down with our supervisor and discussed the ground rules for how we would interact during the week. We wrote them down, agreed upon them, and came to a mutual understanding. This set the stage to allow us to understand our peer’s expectations and limitations.

Survival Tip #2: Don’t take things personally

Everyone is tired, hungry, and stressed. When someone lashes out, just remember that we are all here for the same purpose and are trying the best we can. Fighting does not contribute good to the situation. We really did a good job of discussing this beforehand and getting on the same page (see: Survival Tip #1) and it certainly paid off.

Survival Tip #3: Take scheduled breaks

It is easy to get caught up in the seriousness of what we do – social work is emotionally and physically tolling. Taking a scheduled break for very brief dance parties made the office environment less tense and gave us the time to stop and smile a bit. Without scheduled group dance breaks – coordinated by the amazing Kate Kirages – it felt like we would have died from the stress and pressure. Letting off steam, even just for a few minutes, was crucial.

Survival Tip #4: Take time to laugh

Inside jokes were KEY to our survival. Whether it was casually joking about our sanity, whisper screaming, or bonding over our conversations with other offices – we always found a way to work in some laughter into our environment.

Survival Tip #5: Be thoughtful of others

Having another coworker ask how you’re doing can make all the difference. Checking in on how each other was doing helped us keep our heads on straight.

Survival Tip #6: Know your limits

Everyone has a breaking point and self-care is CRUCIAL to surviving a high-stress, deadline-driven work week. Whether it’s stepping outside to take a brief walk, calling loved ones to check in, or taking some time to scan social media – we all needed to take some time for ourselves.

Survival Tip #7: Make sure to meet your basic needs

Don’t forget your basic needs like taking the time to grab a bite to eat, making some coffee, or sleeping (when you have time to!). Everyone is different – some need that caffeine fix, some get “hangry” without a snack, and others get delirious on sleep deprivation. We all get along better when these needs are met.

Survival Tip #8: Be a productive and trustworthy member of the team

We would not have survived Budget Week without each other. Working to the best of your ability and contributing quality work to the team makes everyone’s life easier. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you can’t figure it out yourself.

After surviving Budget Week – I feel I can handle anything. I am so honored to be surrounded by my fellow LSG members and could not have made it through without them.

About GCSW Legislative Interns

This blog is brought to you courtesy of The Graduate College of Social Work's Austin Legislative Internship Program. The College selects graduate MSW students to intern at the Texas Legislature during its legislative session every two years. Student interns work as full-time staffers in the Legislature, either as policy analysts with the Legislative Study Group, a Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives, or in legislators’ offices. Here, they will share their unique experiences!
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1 Response to A Social Worker’s Survival Guide to Budget Week at the Texas Legislature

  1. Mitchell says:

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