Contact Your Legislator
Building Relationships with your Local Legislators
It is hard to watch the news or listen to local talk radio and not hear about state and federal spending or deficits. The intense rhetoric surrounding state and federal budget cuts is not likely to end any time soon, so to ensure that vulnerable children and youth still have a safe place to go after school, participate in fun or challenging activities, and receive extra learning opportunities, your voice as an afterschool provider will be essential.
But before you can ask your state and federal legislators to do something, they need to meet you and see for themselves why afterschool is so important to your community. Simple strategies are provided for you to utilize and engage your local policymakers to build champions for afterschool in both Harrisburg and Washington, DC.
Here is more information on how to the lay the foundation for building a relationship with your legislators and the actual meet and greet.
Laying the Foundation
The first step to building that relationship is like the first step in building any relationship – you need to introduce, or in some cases, reintroduce yourself.
Those of you who have conducted meetings with locally elected officials know that you do not always get to meet face-to-face with your state legislators or member of Congress – especially if you have traveled to Harrisburg, PA and Washington, DC. Something comes up, a vote is scheduled, there are conflicting events or perhaps a press conference suddenly appears on the policymaker’s calendar. These activities are all part of the daily lives of elected officials. Sometimes your meeting might be postponed, but what most often happens is that your member of Congress or state legislator will ask his/her staff to meet with you.
You should never feel insulted if this happens to you. It is not a bad thing. The strength of your relationship with your policymaker’s staff is a vital factor in your future success as an advocate. Think about it: educating a staff member gives you an opportunity to educate a person who has the ear of your elected policymaker on a daily basis.
Take a proactive approach to get to know and educate the staff of your member of Congress.
Getting to know policymakers’ district office staff helps put you and your program on the radar screen at the local level. Since it’s probably going to be easier to meet with your members of Congress when they are in their district office, it is good to have a personal connection to someone in that office.
Getting to know their staff and sharing information with them about your afterschool program is a key strategy to making your Congress person more informed on the issue of afterschool. You want to establish yourself as the “go-to” person on all afterschool issues - especially during consideration of the federal budget.
Meeting with the person responsible for afterschool issues in the DC office will give you the opportunity to show the breadth of your knowledge. It will also make him/her aware that you are following budget debates closely and are concerned about what this could mean for the children in your community.
Visit the Afterschool Alliance website to contact your congressmen and senators directly, or review sample communication tools.
Meet and Greet
During the end of June and the beginning of July, your member of Congress will be home in their district office conducting constituent business. You are their constituent and it is time your member of Congress is informed of the business that interests you – afterschool!
If you did not already have strong relationships with your State House or Senate members, it is understandable that you may have faced challenges if you asked them to advocate for funding that supports afterschool in the debate over the state budget. But hopefully by cultivating the relationships throughout the year, you will be in a position to make a stronger impact on their budget priorities.
House and Senate members will be in their district offices from July until mid-September. This is the perfect opportunity for you to schedule your first introductory meetings with both your House and Senate members.
The purpose of these meetings is for you to introduce yourself and your afterschool program. They will need some of the same basic information that you put together for your first meeting with your member of Congress last month. For example:
When members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly have completed their work on the state budget, and you have (hopefully) scheduled time to meet with your local House and Senate members while they are home over the summer break, let’s turn our attention back to Congress.
As with any bill that is introduced, Senators have the opportunity to co-sponsor legislation as a show of support for a bill or issue. This provides you with an opportunity to make contact with Pennsylvania’s Senators and remind them about the needs of children attending afterschool programs.
While you certainly want to ensure some face-to-face time with your local officials when they attend the event, you also want to provide legislators with the opportunity to interact with the kids in your program, perhaps participate in an activity if they want to, and visit with the children’s families and/or other attendees. In fact, a good strategy would be to try to identify a parent or guardian who would be comfortable introducing themselves, thanking the legislators for their attendance and speak to the benefits of your afterschool program from their family’s own personal experience.
Here are a few more tips: