How to Write to Your Congressman
Originated by: Diana Wilson
Submitted: 05 Jul 2012
Last updated on:
5 Jul 2012
Related Health Topics: Healthcare advocacy, Healthcare reform, Community health
What do you think when you hear the words “soda ban,” “reductions in SNAP funding,” “Medicaid cuts,” “abortion restrictions”? More importantly, does it make you wish you could do something?
A really simple and influential action you can take as a health professional is to write a letter to your congressman. It is important to remember how heavily the health of our nation relies on legislation with insurance companies and advertizing agencies already lobbying to have their sometimes unhealthy ideas heard - law-makers need to hear your side too.
What to write about
Although you can introduce brand new ideas, it is most effective to address legislation that is already being discussed by lawmakers.
To find out about current federal legislation, you can search the Library of Congress at http://thomas.loc.gov . Use the Search Bill Summary & Status field to search for a topic you are interested in. Click on the bill number to find a summary of the bill and status information.
The Active Legislation page on the United States Senate website has a list of active bills that you may find easier to browse. http://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/legislative/b_three_sections_with_teasers/active_leg_page.htm
Most states have similar pages with current legislation information. These can usually be found by searching "state bill search" in a search engine such as Google.
For local bills, check your city's website.
You can also check out legislative, policy, or advocacy pages on the websites of health organizations you are interested in to find out about federal, state, or local priorities. See the Additional Resources section for a list of some of these.
Who to write to
Figuring out whom to address your letter to may be the most complicated part. You need to send it to someone who might be able to do something with your ideas. Put simply, it will do no good to write to a city councilor about a war in the Middle East. If you are writing about a current bill, follow these simple steps to figure out whom to write to.
Find out if it is a federal, state, or local bill.
If you found it on the United States Senate or Library of Congress site, it is a federal bill. If you found it on your state government site, it is likely a state bill. This determines whether you address your letter to someone in the federal, state, or local government.
Figure out if it is a house or senate bill.
For federal bills, house bill numbers start with H.R. and senate bills start with S. Most state bills have similar designations. Often there are similar bills being discussed in both chambers. This determines whether you write to a senator or a house representative. You may want to write to someone in both chambers about their respective bills.
Figure out the status of the bill.
This determines specifically which senator or representative you write to or how you frame your message. For example, if the bill has been introduced in the senate with no further action, you may want to ask your senator to cosponsor the bill or thank them for cosponsoring it if they have already done so. Your senators and representatives are those that represent your congressional district. To find these people, see step four.
If the bill is in committee, you may want to write to one of the committee members rather than to the congressmen from your congressional district.
Figure out who your congressman is.
You've already determined if you have a federal, state, or local bill, you know if it is a senate or house bill, and you figured out whether you want to contact your congressman or a committee member. Now you can use the USA.gov Contact Elected Officials page to find out who your congressman is and find contact information.
http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml If it is a state bill, click on the State Legislators link to find contact information for state legislators. If it is a federal senate bill, click the U.S. Senators link to find your state's two U.S. senators or contact information for a specific committee member.
If it is a federal house bill, click the U.S. Representatives link to find your congressional district's U.S. representatives or contact information for a specific committee member. If you don't know which district you belong to, you can find out by entering your ZIP on house.gov's Find Your Representative page http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/
What to include in your letter
There are a few things to keep in mind when writing your letter.
Address the letter properly, for example "The Honorable __" or "Representative __" and make sure names are spelled correctly.
Identify the bill by name and number if available. Be specific about the issue you are addressing.
Talk about how the issue affects you personally. Although you can start with a form letter from a lobby group, you should speak individually and explain why this issue is of interest to you.
Provide specifics, use logic, and let the facts speak for themselves.
Keep the letter civil and don't be confrontational. Do ask direct questions and request a reply.
Keep the letter to one page.
Build a rapport with your legislator but do not overwhelm them with a letter every week.