How to Influence Your Elected Representatives: A Personal Blog

May 28, 2020

Do you want to share your thoughts with federal elected representatives concerning what should be included in their fourth stimulus bill or any other issue? I have written this blog for those who do not regularly lobby and are interested in how I have gone about conveying my concerns to the legislators representing me. It is a format which can be used for lobbying a legislator now or with any issue. It is divided into three sections: Selecting a Personal Message, Lobbying Choices, and Specific Steps in Convening a Message. Selecting Your Personal Message to Your Legislator Following current issues and letting your legislator know what you think the government should be doing about them is a civic duty which is greatly needed now. As an amateur solo lobbyist, I have found that it is easiest, and probably most effective, to only contact your own representatives. Legislators keep track of how many people contact their offices via phone or on-line on specific issues. They want to be able to tell their colleagues what messages they are getting from their voters, and to state the numbers of constituents from whom they are hearing. Senators and Congressmen often quote constituents’ comments and issues in their press releases. It is a good idea to mention any specific interest you have for writing and any background that might give credence to your message. For example, background as a long-time member of the Mission and African Mission Committees of Westminster Presbyterian Church or as a former FOCUS volunteer could be cited when lobbying for The Heroes Act. If the substance of a bill or an issue affects you, your family, friends, neighbors, church members, acquaintances, or community, then be sure to mention that. For example, The Heroes Act supports public servants such as police, firefighters, health care workers, ambulance drivers, and teachers. Public transportation, food stamp benefits, and direct payments to families are also covered in The Heroes Act. Below, I have outlined my thoughts concerning the current issue of the fourth stimulus bill which has been passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and has been sent to the Senate. I feel very strongly that the relief promised in this bill is absolutely essential for our country during this pandemic. Background Information on the 4th Stimulus Act On May 15 the House of Representatives passed its version of the 4th stimulus bill, identified as The Heroes Act. The Senate will introduce its own relief package in the coming weeks, before a bill is returned to the House. The content of the stimulus bill passed by the House of Representatives is politically contested. Congressman Tonko said, “The Heroes Act delivers a paycheck boost for our frontline workers, strengthens the Paycheck Protection Program, puts money into the pockets of the vast majority of Americans and makes critical investments in the pillars of American society such as schools, hospitals, infrastructure and more. We need it so we can weather this storm, ramp up our economic safely and follow the wisdom and guidance of a science-based approach.” Governor Andrew Cuomo said, “Each day that Congress fails to act, states are being forced to make cuts that will devastate the essential services the American people rely on and destroy the economic recovery before it even gets off the ground.” Our two Senators have praised the bill and worked with members of Congress from New York on some of the provisions of the bill. Bread for the World issued a statement celebrating “the House of Representatives passage of The Heroes Act, which provides additional assistance for the millions of Americans who are experiencing hardship due to COVID-19.” Lobbying Choices In lobbying, one option is to comment on a specific bill as a whole. Another is to comment positively or negatively on specific provisions included in the bill and those which you believe have been omitted. Lobbying for a broad issue that you think the government should address can be more general and less specific, inviting the representative to be creative in ways to address your concern. In my personal messages concerning The Heroes Act this month, I have largely focused on three issues. My opinion is that the first two issues are adequately addressed in The Heroes Act, but the third is not. 1. Strong Support for Funding of State and Local Governments as they respond to the challenges of COVID-19. I support the comprehensive provisions included in The Heroes Act which support state and local governments. The bipartisan National Governors Association has called for more money for states to avoid massive cuts or major tax increases. Congressman Tonko reported that The Heroes Act provides more than $1.3 billion in crisis-response aid to New York’s Capital Region and a combined $49.5 billion to New York State overall. Senator Gillibrand said, “Governor Cuomo has warned that, without federal relief, billions of dollars of cuts will need to be made to local and state agency budgets. New York won’t be the only state having to make those impossible choices. Budgets for public health care workers, firefighters, police, sanitation workers, teachers, and other vital public servants across the country are on the line. Without federal funding, these governments will have no option but to raise taxes on already cash-strapped families and businesses or to make cuts to the people and services that citizens depend on.” Senator Schumer said, “I am doing everything I can to get significant and flexible federal aid to our states and local governments included in the next legislative package Congress considers.” 2. Adequate funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) to help people buy food. I will thank Congressman Tonko and our two Senators for supporting the provisions of the House-passed legislation that include a 15 percent increase to the maximum monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit and increases the minimum benefit to $30. The Heroes Act also blocks three administrative rules that would prevent millions of people from receiving SNAP benefits. Bread for the World says that every $1 increase in SNAP benefits generates more than $1.50 in economic activity. 3. Money to deal with the hunger pandemic now facing Africa and other developing countries. The Heroes Act does not fund international humanitarian aid. I will ask our Legislators to support the Bread for the World proposal for $12 billion for humanitarian assistance in the final relief package. As one of the reasons for supporting this proposal, I will cite what Westminster has learned about hunger this spring from our partners in three West African countries. The World Food Program warns that the number of people facing extreme hunger could double by the end of the year without immediate help. Steps in Conveying a Message to Your Legislators 1. Select the Message that you want to convey Think about what is important to you. 2. Decide why you are writing: Are you writing as a member of a family who is fighting to survive due to unemployment, illness, or loss of health insurance? Are you and your children going hungry? Are you a member of a Church that helps to support one or more food pantries? Are you involved in an African Mission program that has received urgent requests for food and for supplies needed to set up handwashing stations? 3. Write your comment out before logging into a Legislator’s website Write your comment out in Word or whatever platform you use so as to be ready to paste it onto your Legislator’s website. If not using Word, exporting your message to Word, if possible, may make it easier for offices receiving it. Limit your comments to no more than two or three pages. Anything longer may not be read. 4. Use your Legislator’s website For those in most areas of the Capital District, our representatives are: Congressman Paul Tonko, US Senator Kristen Gillibrand, US Senator Chuck Schumer, Majority Leader. 5. Tips for navigating the website In my experience you will need to enter your 5-digit ZIP Code and the additional 4-digits for the site of a member of the House of Representatives. Choices listed for writing about a topic may be general. For instance, Hunger may be grouped under Nutrition or Agriculture. You can always elect “Other” as a choice. You may be able to summarize your subject or not. In all cases, a space for comment is always provided. 6. Don’t forget to say Thank you. 7. If you want or need a response, you may call the Legislator’s Office. Addresses and phone numbers are listed on the website. Offices may be closed, but messages left are usually answered. 8. Consider telling family members and friends here and around the country why you think lobbying is important. I have found it rewarding to express my opinion on national issues and hope everyone who tries it will feel the same way. Lois Wilson has been a Westminster volunteer since she retired from State Government in 1997. For the last eight years before she retired, she was the Staff Director for the NYS Senate Education Committee. Lois has been a FOCUS volunteer and has helped to organize holiday parties for homeless families at Schuyler Inn. She has been an active co-chair of Westminster’s African Ministries Committee since 2001, helping with Church mission trips to Ghana and Liberia and liaison with groups representing West African immigrants. In Spring 2018, she moved to the Avila Retirement Community where she now volunteers and has helped to organize MoonBees for The MoonCatcher Project.

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