Communicating With Congress
You can communicate with Congress by writing or calling. Below are the basic steps for communicating with Congress through a letter or over the phone.
Writing to Congress
Writing letters can be an effective means of keeping your legislators informed about who you are, your concerns about public policy, and how federal health care policies are affecting Community Options, people with disabilities and the community. Legislators rely on letters to find out what most people back home are thinking. Letter writing can also be your first step in building an ongoing relationship with your legislators, which is especially crucial when building grassroots advocacy.
Keep the following in mind when writing letters:
- Be brief. Concisely present your position and reasoning.
- State your purpose for writing in the first paragraph of the letter. If your letter pertains to a specific piece of legislation, identify it, for example, House bill: HR_, Senate bill: S_.
- Address only one issue in each letter and, if possible, keep the letter to one page.
- Write your own letter using your own words. This is much more effective than signing a petition or duplicating an obvious form letter.
- Concentrate on the effect that this legislation will have on people (voters), including those with disabilities, their families, others in the community, and Community Options’ employees. Arguments centering exclusively on your own self-interest will be less persuasive.
- Give your credentials when appropriate. Let the legislator know if you have specific experience in the issues.
- Mention if you have met the legislator or have a special connection.
- Do not write if you can use another method of communication, specifically personally visiting the district or state office, or Washington, D.C. Then, following up with a letter is more effective than a letter alone.
- Follow up. Never write one letter, always send a second. If your members of Congress ultimately adopt your plan, thank them. If not, inform them that you know and are disappointed.
Note: When writing to a committee chair or the house speaker, it is proper to address them as Dear Chairman or Madam Chairwoman or Dear Mr. Speaker.
A telephone call can be an effective method of influencing lawmakers, particularly if placed shortly after written communication. Congressional offices often pay close attention to these calls as a measure of voters sentiment. An outpouring of calls can sometimes change the vote of a legislator, but even a small number of calls can make a difference.
Keep the following in mind when calling:
- When you call, you will most likely be connected with a staff assistant who will report your concern to the legislator. Ask to speak to the aide who handles the Issue on which you wish to comment.
- After identifying yourself, tell the aide you would like to leave a brief message, such as: “Please tell Senator/Representative (Name) that I support/oppose (S_/HR_).” Write a brief script for yourself. Note key points and phrases before you call. You will want to state the reasons you oppose/support a piece of legislation.
- Ask for your senator’s or representative’s position on the bill. You may also request a written response to your call.
- Follow up and thank the lawmaker for considering your suggestion and mail written thank you notes as appropriate.
Finding Phone Numbers
Most senators and representatives maintain one or more offices in the state or congressional district they represent. You can find the phone number in the U.S. government section of the telephone directory or by calling information. If you wish to call the Washington, D.C., office, you can reach your senator or representative through the Capitol switchboard. Simply dial 202.224.3121, and ask for your representative or senator’s office.