Sukhwindar Singh, Director of Education and Training, RCAP Solutions
A recent conversation with a small wastewater system in southwestern Pennsylvania and then again with a small drinking water system in central Pennsylvania has reminded me of the need to highlight a couple of successful steps that small systems can take to build and develop legislative advocacy for local projects.Â In its simplest terms, legislative advocacy means working with individual lawmakers and lawmaking bodies to gain support for your local initiatives and projects.Â Such efforts are usually successful over a period of time and thus longer-term infrastructure development or rehab projects can be ideal community projects to highlight for your state and local representatives, even when the funding for the project is far down the road. Â Â While legislative support can take several forms including a bill with funding attached, a bill with wording that supports a particular philosophy or helps to legitimize an issue, a bill with regulations that assist a target population or a local ordinance, it is often the budget advocacy and the political and moral support as well as links to other contacts that persuade most of our RCAP community leaders to improve efforts in this area.
Timing is a critical element in conducting effective legislative advocacy.Â Â While many of our community leaders keep at it as often as they can, deciding when to push can be crucial to success.Â Some things to consider on timing of requests are when lawmakers are about to take up something crucial to the issue such as an infrastructure bill, just before and during budget time, when a vote is likely to be very close or a veto is considered or when a bill can be amended, or when an issue in your community is drawing attention.Â At the very least, legislative education and outreach should be a part of any community initiative linked to your project.Â It is your chance to tell your community story and to identify clearly the local need and generate support for your project. Â Secondly, it is important to remember that your legislators want to hear from you or your group directly.Â These legislators represent you and a personal approach can be quite effective.Â For agencies and organizations, advocates and lobbyists can also be effective in highlighting issues and creating awareness.Â However, it should be remembered that nobody becomes effective in this area overnight or by â€œgoing it alone.â€Â Â Â It helps to assemble a team of allies that include your county planners, RCAP, local community and business leaders, and ultimately your project engineer.Â Lastly, be prepared to discuss the economic impacts of your project in terms of jobs created or retained, local businesses impacts and prospects for local development, most recent income survey data or other median household income data, and highlight what other populations (tourists and recreation enthusiasts, educational, etc) will be attracted to your community after the project is funded and developed.Â It also helps to identify and note the local cash and inkind match as this is an indicator of serious local preparation for this project.Â With many communities competing for the same sources of funding, those that are often willing to think â€œoutside the boxâ€ and prepare early to engage local and state representatives may be more successful at obtaining funding.
At RCAP Solutions, we have the resources and training materials to assist you in this area.Â Contact your local technical assistance provider to begin planning your efforts.Â Building successful support for your local project with legislators involves the following steps summarized below.Â Remember also that you may need to build out from these steps and RCAP is here to assist.
1)Â Â Â Â Â Make sure your local project is well-defined in terms of scope and project description, local need, local support and documentation of issue (compliance, funding, public health, other, etc.) and local match.
2)Â Â Â Â Â Gather project allies, advocates, contacts and develop a coherent communication and coordination structure that provides consistent messaging and required actions of all parties.
3)Â Â Â Â Â Learn about the legislative process at every opportunity and get to know your local and state legislators, county commissioners, and Legislative Director for your congressional district.
4)Â Â Â Â Â Learn to write effective letters and emails to legislators about your project and begin communicating with these individuals in a personal and direct manner as well.
5)Â Â Â Â Â Define and clarify your message as you move forward and remember that at any time you could be explaining the project for the first time to a newly elected legislator.
6)Â Â Â Â Â Define and clarify your request or â€œaskâ€ of the legislator.
7)Â Â Â Â Â Develop a positive relationship with the media and get comfortable with staging local events such as tours, â€œmeet and greetsâ€ and community-get togethers with legislative officials.Â Offer to support such events if your legislator is looking for those local opportunities.
8)Â Â Â Â Â Pay attention to the timing of your request or event, but take a longer term approach when it comes to the legislative advocacy process.
9)Â Â Â Â Â Be prepared to discuss economic impacts of your proposed project and local efforts to support this project directly with your legislator.
10)Â Â Do not quit, a solid advocacy effort never ends.
11)Â Â Make sure to invite and include all project allies, contacts and your local legislators in check signing events (when you do eventually get that funding) and thank them for their efforts.
Lastly it may help to remember this.Â Many areas that are now regularly discussed and funded by legislative bodies- environmental preservation, adult literacy education, services for the homeless-were unmentioned and, often, unheard of until concerted efforts by advocates brought them to lawmakersâ€™ attention.Â RCAP Solutions technical assistance staff advocate for rural communities and small drinking water and wastewater systems.Â If your particular project fulfills a larger need or requires closure of a funding gap that similar projects face, then it may be time to make that connection for your legislator.
For web resources on this topic, please visit the Community Tool Box,Â a public service of the University of Kansas, maintained by the Work Group for Community Health and Development.Â The Community Tool Box is a free, online resource that contains more than 7,000 pages of practical information for promoting community health and development, and is a global resource for professionals and grassroots groups.