Magazine article Policy & Practice

Elaine Ryan Brings Youthful Energy to AARP

Magazine article Policy & Practice

Elaine Ryan Brings Youthful Energy to AARP

Article excerpt

What do Mario Cuomo, Sid Johnson, Bill Waldman and Jerry Friedman have in common?

"They are all men." True, but wrong answer.

"They all have made this a better world." Right answer, but not necessarily true.

True and right answer: "Their righthand man was a woman."

Elaine Ryan, who left her post as deputy executive director of policy and government affairs at the American Public Human Services Association in May to become the director of state and intergovernmental affairs at the AARP, has served on the staff of all four men. She has been at the center of federal policy-making since 1980, when she worked in the office of the lieutenant governor of New York. She became Cuomo's first assistant in 1987. When Louise Slaughter was elected congresswoman, she made Ryan chief of staff, bringing her to Washington in 1989. In 1993, APHSA Executive Director Johnson recruited her to the position that she held for the next 14 years.

As head of the policy and government affairs department, Ryan was responsible for keeping state and local public human service agencies apprised of the happenings in Congress and, as such, represented state and local agencies' interests on Capitol Hill. A woman known for her bubbling personality, energy and wit, Ryan shepherded APHSA's policy and government relations through the exciting and sometimes turbulent years of state waiver demonstration projects, welfare reform, the devolution revolution and the Contract With America in a Republican-led Congress, as well as the decade of block-granting federal programs. She was at the center of every major debate on entitlement programs and every piece of welfare, child care, child support enforcement, foster care and adoption legislation.

Ryan traveled around the country to educate APHSA members and up to the Hill to inform legislators on behalf of state and local agencies and the nation's most disadvantaged and helpless. She became an institution in the human service policy-making world and the voice at APHSA meetings and teleconferences. Some members came to recognize her voice even though they had never met her.

"I take great pride that people in the states tune in to our conference calls, so much so that they may have never met us in person but know us by our voices in conference calls," she said.

One might think the lines of policy wonks must be as dry as the work they do. Not true. Ryan was known for making APHSA staff laugh, and she often lightened up-in addition to enlightening-the legislators she addressed.

At a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on child welfare financing reform, the topic was on Program Improvement Plans, or PIPs, a highly complex subject. …

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