In the effort to move the Congress and the President to fix the Health Center funding cliff, Health Center advocates have crossed the first big hurdle by collecting, nearly 100,000 signatures for the “Access is the Answer” petition! This is a great step in the fight to ensure the long-term strength of the Health Centers Program. More of a marathon than a sprint, advocates will need to build on the success of the petition effort and keep the heat on our elected officials.
This is particularly important due to the fact that daily our elected officials are flooded with requests from influential and worthy organizations as well as individuals seeking legislative action on a host of political issues. Given this crowded field, how do Health Center advocates make sure that their message stands out from the pack?
As has been said many times before all politics is local. Our federal officials, busy as they are, really do pay attention to the voices of those back in their home districts. And the voices of local elected officials and community leaders are particularly critical.
For Henry Bonilla, who represented Texas’s 23rd congressional district in the United States House of Representatives from 2003 – 2007 and was Co-Chair of the Community Health Center Caucus, “the voices and concerns of my constituents back home always carried the most weight when I was making decisions about what policies to support or how to vote on certain bills. I had so many meetings with lobbyists and organization staff in Washington, but it was always my folks back home who held the most influence and most guided my decisions while in Congress.” Furthermore, he continued, “if I didn’t hear from anyone back home how important a particular issue was I felt more comfortable taking it as a sign that perhaps it didn’t need to be a top priority. The power folks at home have over the issues and process in Washington is very real – during my time in Congress I dedicated most of my time and energy trying to be responsive to the needs of my constituents and counted on THEM to tell me about those needs and priorities.”
One former Capitol Hill staff member, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that “ultimately, what mattered most to the Representative that I worked for was being responsive to the needs and concerns of the voters in her district.” She also stated that “personal contact from constituents plays a critical role in helping to identify the most pressing issues in the community. Members of Congress look to the opinions of their constituents to help both inform and drive the choices they make in Washington. This is especially important given the number of competing policy priorities and decisions they face. If members of Congress repeatedly hear about a particular issue, they are better able to prioritize and act on that issue.”
As this inside perspective from Rep. Bonilla and the Hill staffer clearly show, Health Center advocates must insist that the health center funding cliff be a priority for our elected officials by demonstrating an outpouring of support for Health Centers from all corners of the community. That is why in the next phase of the “Access Is The Answer” campaign, charges every health center in the nation to collect five letters of support from local elected officials – Mayors, City Councilors, County Commissioners, etc. –and ten from community leaders – local hospitals, chambers of commerce, business partners, community organizations –by May 31st.
Once collected, please be sure to report your results using the campaign report form or by emailing us email@example.com. Then, compile your community support materials– signed petitions and support letters– and schedule in–person visits with your members of congress at your health center or in their local offices during Congressional Recess Weeks(including National Health Center Week, August 10 – 16) to deliver your materials and MAKE THE CASE for Health Centers.
We need to send the unmistakable message to the President and the Congress that everyone is paying attention and that this issue is too important to ignore. They must act now to ensure that Health Centers receive the funding and resources needed to continue providing high quality care for communities in need throughout the nation.And that’s just what letters from local elected officials and community supporters will do.