By Amy Haddad
Director of Policy and Government Affairs
As you can imagine, few members of Congress or state legislatures have strong backgrounds in public health. When we conduct advocacy around public health broadly, and Title V maternal and child health specifically, it's sometimes difficult to identify personal stories to humanize a policy request and make up for this lack of public health experience. Yet nothing is more powerful.
That's why attendees at AMCHP's 2018 Annual Conference in February conducted more than 80 visits with members of Congress and/or their staff. Many of the people who trekked to Capitol Hill from the conference in Northern Virginia are family leaders and advocates who told personal stories about benefiting from the Title V Maternal and Child Health Services Block Grant. I was privileged to join Vera Spinks from Alabama on a few such visits, where she masterfully used her personal experience to educate her elected officials about how Title V has helped her family – by, for example, connecting her to resources and to families with similar experiences who have provided unique support.
While sharing data (as we did during these visits) is key to policy advocacy, Vera also shared a photo (left) of her beautiful children – Adlen, Kylie, and Xan – along with a handwritten note on the back so that lawmakers and their staff could put faces to policy proposals. I have heard of others bringing creative leave-behind materials such as photos or handwritten notes, and wearing memorable attire like bright colors to make a lasting impression.
Staffers who work in state houses or Congress can tell you that these visits do have impact. As a former Capitol Hill staffer, I can attest to the power of relationships built with family advocates. As various organizations conducted their annual advocacy days by visiting our offices, I looked forward to reconnecting in-person with volunteers who had come to share their stories in order to demonstrate the real-life impact of a policy change or funding request for which they were advocating. Throughout the year I came to know these same individuals to be trusted resources when I sought further information about their health policy issues. And when I went to visit my member's home district, I went to visit these people as well.
While AMCHP's government affairs staff serves as a go-to resource for the congressional staff here in Washington, those staffers rely on constituents as resources to localize the issues at hand. Families from the district a member of Congress represents are great sources of information, can give feedback on how a policy proposal may be received by the community and can help the member network with other families who might also serve as resources.
At AMCHP we strive to provide the skills and resources necessary to advocate for policies or educate elected officials, such as how to request meetings, how to research lawmakers' previous positions on issues and what materials to leave behind, along with sample talking points. Family members often tell us they are nervous before going to the Hill for the first time, but usually I find that, given their experience in being advocates for their families and children on a daily basis in a variety of situations, they have so much to teach us about how become even better advocates in statehouses and on Capitol Hill.
Right: Susan Colburn and Vera Spinks meet with staff for Senator Doug Jones (AL)