Advocacy and Action Alerts

23rd June
2011
written by naehblog

As our Advocacy How-To series continues, we want to spend one more week talking about how to contact congressional offices. This is the most important building block of building congressional relationships. Last week, we talked about emailing them; this week we will look at calling.

Speaking directly to someone in a congressional office might seem intimidating, so it is important to have a solid game plan before calling. Make sure you:

  • If possible, know the name of the staff person responsible for the issue you are calling about (see last week’s Advocacy  How-To blog post for more on this),
  • Be able to state your specific “ask” in a few clear and convincing sentences (we can help you develop talking points), and
  • Be prepared for questions.

Here are three scenarios you may come across when you call the office:

1. Speaking with the Staff Person

The best case scenario is when you are connected to the people who handle your issue (like housing). Tell them exactly what you want them to do. Be very clear. If they can’t answer right then and there, ask when you can follow up. Be concise. If you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t make something up! Just say you will find the answer and let them know in follow-up. It’s a perfect excuse to keep the conversation going.

2. Getting an Automated Message

If you call the main number and receive an automated message, leave a message.

Be as clear and brief as possible. Say you are leaving a message for the staff person in charge of your issue and mention what you want the office to do. Be sure to leave a call back number and email address for the office to get in touch with you.

Here is an example:

“My name is Jane Doe from Districtville and I’m leaving a message for the staff member responsible for housing. I’d like to urge Rep. Joe Schmoe to support $2.4 billion funding level for McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants. I’d love to talk further with the appropriate staff person on how this program is making an impact in my community and why this funding level is so important for our district’s efforts to end homelessness. I can be reached at 202-555-1234 or jdoe@email.org”

3. Speaking with the Front Desk

If the front desk is unable to transfer your call to the appropriate staff member, try to find out when would be a good time to call back. You may also want to leave a message like the one above, so the office has a record of your call and concerns.

In these situations or others, the Alliance can help! If you have any questions or concerns about contacting your Members’ offices, let us know! We are here to answer your questions and help you every step of the way! And make sure to check out our Advocacy Toolkit for more great information and resources.

Image courtesy of nikitab.

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16th June
2011
written by naehblog

Our “Advocacy How-To” series provides tips, tools, and strategies to conduct your own advocacy and get involved in Alliance advocacy campaigns. Today’s post is from Federal Policy Intern, Swaroop Vitta.

Last week, we saw how easy it is to find your Members of Congress, the committees they sit on, and the appropriate staff members to contact. This week and next, we’ll talk about how to go about contacting your Members’ offices. There are a few ways to do this, but we recommend either calling or emailing their offices – “snail mail” can take weeks to get through Capitol Hill security.

Today, we will talk about emailing the office.

Because it makes the most sense to contact the staff person who handles your issue (like housing) directly, the most effective way to reach them is usually to get their direct email address, rather than the general email address listed on the Member’s website.

Many congressional offices will not give out email addresses for their staff members, but the Alliance can help you figure out the email address if you know the staff person’s name. To get this information, either:

  • Call the congressional office directly, or
  • Call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected with your Member’s office.

Once you reach the office, ask who handles your issue area. For example, if you will be emailing your Member about housing issues, ask for the staff member in charge of housing.

Now it’s time to write the email. This is nothing to be intimidated by, but here are a few key tips.

Get to the point. These staff members receive many emails everyday, so it is important that you make it clear early on in the email what exactly you are asking of them.

Now that you have their attention, add lots of relevant information. You can include local data, like the number of people in permanent housing in your area, and even short anecdotes, like stories about a successful re-housing intervention. Feel free to attach local news reports and other media, or simply link to reports or other publications and give a brief summary of the highlights.

Be relevant. Make sure that everything you write is relevant to the specific issue you are raising. Each point should back up your main request.

Proofread. Remember to proofread for grammar and for content. It is very easy to make mistakes while typing, but these mistakes may be distracting and indicate a lack of credibility. Once you think you are done, read over the email one more time to make sure it’s perfect.

Now just click send!

Want more? There are lots of great resources in our Advocacy Toolkit, including example emails and other useful information.

9th June
2011
written by naehblog

Our “Advocacy How-To” series provides tips, tools, and strategies to conduct your own advocacy and get involved in Alliance advocacy campaigns. Today’s post is from our Director of Policy Outreach, Amanda Krusemark.

So, you want to get involved in federal advocacy. But who, exactly, should you contact? Which Members of Congress are most important? Who should you talk to in their offices? Today, we’re going to answer these questions.

Members of Congress are most interested in hearing from their own constituents, so you should generally only contact Members who represent your community.

  • If you’re not sure who your representatives are, visit www.house.gov and type your zip code into the box labeled “FIND YOUR REPRESENTATIVE.”
  • You can find your senators at www.senate.gov. Just choose your state from the box labeled “Find Your Senators.”

Once you know who represents you in Congress, you might wonder which Member (or Members) is most important for your cause.

Congress does most of its legislative work through committees so you should find out on which committees your Members of Congress sit. (Members’ websites usually have this information, or we can help.) Depending on the issue, there are several committees that could be important. For example, the most important committee for funding HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants is the Appropriations Committee.

Representatives and senators in charge of these key committees (the Chair and Ranking Member) are the most important, followed by committee members. However, any Member of Congress can ask their colleagues on these committees to take action.

Once you’ve figured out which congressional office to contact, the next step is finding the appropriate staff person in your congressperson’s office. Each staff member is usually assigned a portfolio of subjects like housing, health care, immigration, national security, etc. Find out who handles your issue on behalf of the Member of Congress. For most issues related to homelessness, that is the person who handles housing issues. Sometimes, though, you might want the person who handles (for example) health or youth issues.

It’s that staffer who will be able to advise your Member of Congress on key legislation, appropriations, and other legislative action on your topic of interest.

Next week, we’ll explore how to get in touch with these individuals and what to say. For now, though, just remember that it’s easy to find out who your Members of Congress are and their committee assignments. That information will go a long way toward making you an effective advocate.

Photo courtesy of Senator Mark Warner.

2nd June
2011
written by naehblog

This fourth post in a series of “Advocacy How-To” blogs was written by Amanda, Director of Policy Outreach for the Alliance. In this series, you’ll find tips, tools, and strategies to conduct your own advocacy and get involved in Alliance advocacy campaigns.

Last week, we discussed how a bill becomes a law. This week, we want to explore that process for a specific type of legislation: appropriations bills.

While it may seem complicated and removed from your work in the field, the appropriations process plays a huge role in determining how much is available in federal resources for ending homelessness in your community.

The appropriations process focuses on “discretionary spending” that Congress can set each year – as opposed to mandatory spending, like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid, or Social Security. Discretionary spending includes a huge range of federal programs, like HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants.

The appropriations process is very similar to the process for passing authorizing bills, with a few key differences: funding must be approved each year to run the functions of government, and the sitting President always submits formal recommendations for appropriations.

  • The release of these recommendations – called the President’s Budget Proposal – kicks off the federal budget process each year, usually in early February.

  • Congress uses the President’s recommendations as a guide as it makes decisions about the budget and funding levels for programs like McKinney-Vento.

  • After the President’s Budget Proposal is released, each chamber of Congress (the Senate and the House) usually passes a Budget Resolution, which is a document that provides an overall framework for spending (including discretionary spending) in the upcoming fiscal year. This year, the House has already passed a Budget Resolution but the Senate has yet to act.

  • After passing the Budget Resolution, which sets out the overall amount of discretionary money available to spend (called a 302(a) allocation), the total amount is then divided up among the twelve different Appropriations Subcommittees. All federal discretionary programs are divided into these twelve subcommittees by department and topic.

  • Using this smaller allocation (called a 302(b) allocation), each subcommittee then drafts, releases, and passes its own funding bill. For example, the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee writes a bill providing specific funding levels for programs within the departments of Transportation and HUD.

  • After each bill passes its subcommittee, it must then be passed by the full Appropriations Committee and then by the full House or Senate.

  • Then, just as with authorizing bills, the process will be repeated in the other chamber.

  • Lastly, the House and Senate will have to work out the differences between their two versions of each funding bill. Once they do, they will pass the final version and send it to the President for his signature.

So, when does all of this happen? The federal fiscal year starts on October 1. Theoretically, each of the twelve funding bills should be signed into law before then. In reality, Congress often grants itself an extension or two and may package two or more of the individual funding bills together to save time. That’s exactly what happened with the final fiscal year 2011 budget, which wasn’t passed until April and included all twelve funding bills in one piece of legislation.

Although the appropriations process can be complicated, advocates just like you work every day to impact it so they can better end homelessness. If you’re interested in learning more or getting involved in the coming months in efforts to affect this process in fiscal year 2012, contact Amanda Krusemark.

Image courtesy of doctorwonder.

26th May
2011
written by Anna Blasco

Now that you know you can and should use advocacy to end homelessness, we are going to focus the next few Advocacy How-To posts on how to get involved. We will start with the basics so you can have a good foundation for understanding when things get a little wonky later on in this series. (A lot of this information and much, much more can be found in our Advocacy Toolkit so check it out!)

There are two main types of legislation (bills) in Congress: appropriations bills and authorizing bills

The main difference between these bills is that appropriations bills fund federal programs for the fiscal year, and authorizing bills create new programs or modify existing ones. Basically, the authorizing bill creates a program and the appropriations bill funds that program!

Today, we are going to discuss how an authorizing bill becomes a law. This is important because there are certain points in this process where your work can have a greater impact. As a rule, the best time to influence legislation is when it is being considered by the appropriate legislative committee. After a bill leaves committee, advocates and even Members of Congress themselves may not be able to change it very easily.

To give you a real example, we have outlined how the HEARTH Act became law under each step in italics. The HEARTH Act is the bill that updated HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program.

So, how does an authorizing bill become federal policy?

THE BILL IS INTRODUCED

A bill is introduced by a Member of Congress in either the House or Senate, where it receives a reference number and is referred to the relevant congressional committee.

In 2007, Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Kit Bond (R-MO) introduced the HEARTH Act in the Senate. It was then sent to the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Development Committee.

ON TO COMMITTEE

The committee and subcommittee hold hearings (called mark-ups) where they make revisions, additions, and debate the bill.

The Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Development Committee passed the HEARTH Act in the fall of 2007.

THE BILL IS DEBATED ON THE FLOOR

Once a committee has approved a bill, it is sent to the floor for debate and a vote by all Members of that chamber.

THE PROCESS BEGINS AGAIN

If the bill manages to pass one chamber, it is sent to the other chamber, and the process starts over. If the original bill was introduced in the House, for example, the bill now has to undergo the same process in the Senate. The bill would then receive a reference number specific to the Senate and is referred to a Senate committee and subcommittee. If the bill passes out of committee, it is sent to the Senate floor for debate and a vote by all Members.

TWO BILLS COME TOGETHER

If the bill passes the second chamber, versions from both chambers go to a conference committee and the differences between the two bills are reconciled.

The House and Senate worked out the differences between the respective versions of the HEARTH Act.

FINAL DEBATE

This final version goes to both chambers for one last vote.

Both chambers of Congress finally passed a compromise version of the HEARTH Act in May 2009.

ON THE DESK OF THE PRESIDENT

If it passes both chambers, it is sent to the President, who can either sign it into law or veto it.

President Obama signed the HEARTH Act into law in May 2009.

FINALLY, A LAW

The final law goes to the relevant federal department or agency, which is responsible for enforcing it and developing regulations to fill in missing details not specifically spelled out in the law.

This step is still in flux. The Department of Housing and Urban Development is expected to release in the coming months additional details about how precisely the HEARTH Act will be implemented.

This is just a general overview. Because of the complex rules governing this process, there are many exceptions, bypasses, and differences in the passage of each piece of legislation. But as you can see this complicated process can have very real effects on efforts to end homelessness.

Your participation is the key to the effect: when you reach out to your elected officials during this deliberation process, they take into account your thoughts and ideas. Making sure that you capitalize on this process is one crucial step towards becoming an effective advocate.

19th May
2011
written by Anna Blasco

This is the second in a series of  “Advocacy How-To” blogs. In this series, you’ll find tips, tools, and strategies to conduct your own advocacy and get involved in Alliance advocacy campaigns.

As an employee of a mission-driven organization, you can and should conduct advocacy and lobbying activities on behalf of your cause.

Unfortunately, the confusion surrounding what types of advocacy and lobbying are allowed keeps a lot of important voices silent.

What is the difference between lobbying and advocacy?

According to the IRS, which oversees lobbying activities, lobbying involves an attempt to influence specific legislation at the local, state, or federal level. Lobbying activities include contacting any legislative Member, legislative staff, or government employee to influence him or her to propose, support, or oppose specific legislation, as well as trying to persuade the public to share your views on a particular legislative proposal.

Advocacy, however, is focused on education about a specific issue on behalf of the people your organization serves. There are two main types of advocacy: non-lobbying advocacy and lobbying. There is no federal limit on how much non-lobbying advocacy your nonprofit organization can do.

Below are a few key things that nonprofit organizations should and should not do in regards to lobbying and advocacy.

DO:

  • DO advocate. As we said above, there are no limits on non-lobbying advocacy activities.
  • DO lobby. Nonprofit organizations have a unique perspective and play a valuable role in shaping federal policy.
  • DO learn how to measure your organization’s lobbying activities with the Advocacy Toolkit.
  • DO talk with all of your funders. Public and private foundations can fund lobbying projects but must follow certain rules.
  • DO work with the Alliance year-round on advocacy and lobbying campaigns, like the effort to increase funding for McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants in fiscal year (FY) 2012.

DON’T:

  • DON’T think lobbying can only be done by professional lobbyists. Your lobbying activities can result in better policy, making it easier for your organization to achieve its mission.
  • DON’T use federal funds for lobbying at the state or federal level. A local funding match cannot be used for lobbying purposes either.
  • DON’T ever participate as an organization in any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office. As a private citizen on your own time, you are perfectly within your rights to participate in such a campaign but not while representing your organization.

Policymakers rely on nonprofit organizations’ expertise to make decisions about policy so you can and should lobby.

You should make informed decisions about how your organization is tracking its lobbying and advocacy activities and seek training about lobbying rules and regulations. Use the information in the Advocacy Toolkit to help you begin to make these decisions. As always, the Alliance can help you as you begin making these considerations and begin your advocacy efforts.

Image courtesy of mrjoro

12th May
2011
written by naehblog

Today we’re excited to start a series called “Advocacy How-To.” In this series, you’ll find tips, tools, and strategies to conduct your own advocacy and get involved in Alliance advocacy campaigns. Today’s post is from Alliance program & policy associate, Amanda Krusemark.

To some, advocacy can be a scary idea, often viewed as something other people will handle. But really, advocacy is just the active support of an idea or cause. I spearhead the Alliance’s grassroots advocacy work, and the best part of my job is that I get to see people’s hard work, their advocacy efforts, pay off. Time and again, I’ve seen U.S. Senators and Representatives reverse course on homelessness policy because of feedback from their constituents, people like you.

Advocacy plays a huge role in our collective efforts to end homelessness because it works. One of the realities of this collective effort is that we all depend on resources, and we know that even with the best program models and innovations, we won’t be able to actually end homelessness without sufficient federal, state, and local resources. The way to get more resources is to convince your policymakers to provide them.

That’s where you can come in. Just as it is the job of Members of Congress and other policymakers to represent their constituents’ priorities, it’s your job as a constituent to tell them what those priorities are.

I often hear people say “I’d love to be an advocate, but I just don’t think I’d be any good at it.” I’m here to tell you that that’s just not true! Congressional offices depend on citizen experts and supporters to explain how programs work and why they’re so important in the community. Believe it or not, when it comes to ending homelessness, you are an expert! Your interest in the field and your understanding of the issue in your district or state gives you the necessary knowledge to advocate for these programs.
All you have to do is talk about why this issue matters to you and how important this work is to your community, and – voilà – you’re an advocate!

It really is almost that simple. To help you learn more about advocacy and give you the confidence to get involved we’re launching a new blog series to dive into this important topic and show you just how easy it is. In the rest of this series, we’ll examine other myths, like the idea that you’re not allowed to do lobbying or advocacy, as well as provide some easy how-to tips for getting involved in efforts like our current campaign to increase funding for McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants and others. In any economic or political climate, advocacy is what can get us new and additional resources to prevent and end homelessness.

We just need your help to make it happen!

Stay tuned to this series to learn more and check out our Advocacy page on our website for more information.

Photo courtesy of WordPress Art.

11th May
2011
written by naehblog

Today’s post is from Alliance program & policy associate, Amanda Krusemark.

The annual congressional budget and appropriations process can be more than a little confusing – but it’s critically important for advocates like us.

Ending homelessness will require resources from the federal government – so we need to make sure Congress prioritizes homeless assistance for the upcoming fiscal year (FY) 2012 budget. As you well know, in this climate of economic austerity, that’s easier said than done.

That means we need you to tell your Members of Congress how important ending homelessness is.

Representative Gwen Moore (D-WI) is circulating a letter in the House. The letter asks the House to provide $2.4 billion for HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants (the federal government’s largest investment in homelessness). That’s the same amount the President Obama asked for when he delivered his budget proposal to Congress in February.

We need as MANY Representatives as possible to sign onto Representative Moore’s letter by next Friday, May 20.

So we need you to tell them to sign on.

You can use this sample letter and these sample talking points to contact your Representatives and ask them to sign the letter. For more information, you can contact Amanda Krusemark at akrusemark@naeh.org.

The budget process is not always the same each year, but the overall process usually starts like it did this year:

In February, the Administration submitted its recommendations to Congress for the federal budget.

In April, the House passed a bill setting out its “big-picture” framework for the FY 2012 budget, including how large the budget should be. This framework is called a “budget resolution” and it’s non-binding, meaning Congress doesn’t have to stick to it.

Now that the House has a framework, Representatives are asked to submit “programmatic requests” – which are requests for funding levels each Representative wants to see for key federal programs. That’s what’s happening right now.

You, as an advocate, have this time to influence the choices your Members of Congress make by telling them what’s important in your community and why. You can help shape the size and impact of the federal budget!

Make your voice heard today! Call your Member of Congress and urge them to sign onto Rep. Gwen Moore’s letter or to submit their own programmatic request asking for $2.4 billion for HUD’s McKinney-Vento programs to make substantial progress in preventing and ending homelessness in this country. For more information or guidance, please email Amanda Krusemark.

28th April
2011
written by naehblog

Today, we’re proud and excited to launch our FY 2012 McKinney-Vento Campaign!

The McKinney Vento programs may have received a small increase in the fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget, but this small increase is simply not enough – especially in a time when so many Americans are still struggling to get back on their financial feet.

What: McKinney-Vento FY 2012 Campaign
When: Starting Today!
Where: In your community
How: Check out the campaign web page and start contacting your members of Congress!

Why: The McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance programs are the federal government’s largest investment and homeless assistance.

In 2009, Congress passed theHEARTH Act. The HEARTH Act will update and streamline the McKinney-Vento programs and makes them much better, focusing on prevention, rapid re-housing, and all the other strategies that we know end homelessness. We need a one-time big boost in funding to implement the changes.

We didn’t get that big boost in FY 2011 – we have to get it in FY 2012. We are asking Congress to fund McKinney-Vento programs at $2.4 billion in FY 2012.

If need more information, you’re interested in getting involved, or decide to contact your Members of Congress, just shoot us a quick email to let us know!

21st April
2011
written by Catherine An

Thanks to all of you guys who took the time to fill out our survey on advocacy! We are inspired not only by your participation in the survey but your willingness to get involved in ending homelessness!

Keep it up!M If you’re still interested in helping end homelessness, let us know!
Fill out this five question survey with your information – and we’ll get to you right away!

FYI: Here are some of the results from the advocacy survey:

  • Of the 84 of you who took the survey, a solid 80 – or 95 percent – of you follow us on social networks (how else you might’ve found this survey we’ll never know).
  • 90 percent of you are interested in taking advocacy actions and 50 percent of you already have taken advocacy actions for the Alliance this calendar year.
  • Most of you, 72 percent, are interested in online actions but some of you are interested in things that require a little more: making a phone call, organizing a watch party, hosting a legislator, making a Capitol Hill visit!
  • A solid 96 percent of you would be interested in a Alliance advocacy Facebook group!



Again, we can’t make any of this happen without you – your members of Congress need you! They need you to tell them what you think and what’s important to you. Take the next step in ending homelessness and contact us.

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