By Emily Dreszer, AKCH2 VISTA '19-20
On September 25 and 26th, I had the tremendous opportunity to meet with Legislative Assistants of the Alaskan Congressional Delegation: Senator Murkowski, Senator Sullivan, and Representative Young in Washington D.C.
While I was visiting family and friends in my native Maryland, I had the opportunity to visit our nation’s capital and encourage support of bills would greatly support AKCH2’s mission to increase affordable housing and end homelessness in Alaska. Given the vast geographic area of our state and the increased cost of living/development, accomplishing this mission comes with unique challenges. This will be voted in a House-Senate agreement, tentatively scheduled for late fall/early winter.
My first step was requesting a meeting, which can be done through a form on the representative’s website. It is very important to give multiple dates and available times, to make the meeting possible. A recommended time frame for a request is at least four weeks, but try to stay mindful that staff are busy and schedules are ever changing. In my experience, two weeks before your requested date a legislative assistant should be able to set a firm time and date with you.
Be sure to arrive to the building at least a half hour ahead of time. Security lines do move quickly but they can also be quite long. You only need to remove metal items and your cell phone from your pockets and put your bag on a conveyor belt. No need to show identification. Be sure to know the floor on which the meeting is taking place as well as the room. For instance because a room begins with the number “2” does not mean it is on the second floor. Being early will also assist you in going over any notes or checking sites govtrack.us for any updates.
Giving staff a timeline and opportunity to follow up is a great way to continue the relationship and keep their attention. In our meetings, I stressed how our organization looks forward to keeping their local staff in the loop of how the process is developing and look forward to setting up a local visit to one of our youth agencies in the future so our federal representatives and their staff can see the great work that the funds will bring. Over the next four to six months, AKCH2 will facilitate a coordinated community planning process which will bring together youth with lived experience, youth agencies, the Office of Children’s Services (OCS), the AKCH2 Continuum of Care Board, and other funders. This group will look at existing data, identify service gaps, identify innovative new programs that we could use YHDP dollars for, and set up a system evaluation protocol. Open communication with our Federal Delegation could assist greatly in support of current and future programs and their funding.
Once agencies are awarded, they will have until the end of the Federal Fiscal year (Sept 30, 2020) to finalize their contract with HUD. Then programs can begin implementation. I was sure to express great interest in having staff and even a member of the delegation visit a site. This could be a personal tie to our projects to get the offices involved, as well as a great opportunity for press for both parties.
It is important to stay up to date on the bills which you are encouraging the delegation to support. Facts like if the member supported the bill or similar bills, where the bill is along the process, how well supported it is, if it is estimated to be passed, as well as an estimated timeline. I also highly recommend bringing printed documents to share and supporting data up your sleeve.
This bill would finally make Native American tribes eligible to receive HUD Continuum of Care/McKinney-Vento funding--which is huge for AK! I focused on urging the Senators' staff to support a version of a HUD funding bill which includes $2.761 billion for Homeless Assistance Grants, and $45.1 billion for Housing Choice Vouchers, both of which would represent vital increases.
Finally, one of the most important steps is following up after your meeting with a “thank you” email summarizing the points you made and answering any questions that may have come up during your discussion. I highly recommend writing a draft of each of these emails ahead of time while you are preparing for your meeting, and making adjustments as need be after you have said your goodbyes. It is also highly encouraged that you send this email as soon as possible to keep the attention of busy staffers and to be as polite as possible to keep things moving forward.