Ari Newmann, Director of Policy Development and Applied Research, RCAP
Each year, a contingent of RCAP staff and rural community leaders come to Washington, DC for the RCAP network’s annual Legislative Fly-In. The purpose of the fly-in is to educate members of Congress and the administration about the services that RCAP performs for their rural constituents and remind them of the importance of federal rural development programs. Despite a late-season snowfall that forced the closure of most of the federal government, this March we were able to meet with the offices of more than 100 legislators as well as Congressional committees and federal agencies.
The event helped build support on the Hill for rural development programs and for technical assistance for those programs. In the weeks following the fly-in, RCAP circulated a letter in the Senate supporting funding for technical assistance for rural water and wastewater systems that was signed by a bipartisan group of 12 Senators. A similar letter in the House of Representatives garnered 42 signatures from across the political spectrum. As Congress contemplates funding bills later this year, this strong show of support across party lines will help to ensure that funding for these programs continues.
Throughout the week members of Congress and their staff expressed the desire to hear more about how RCAP and federal community development programs are helping their constituents. In order to maintain support for these programs, it is imperative legislators continue to hear how they benefit the people they represent, and Congressional recesses provide a great opportunity to do so. Every few weeks, Congress is out of session so they can return to their home states and spend time visiting and meeting with constituents. These breaks are a great time to reach out to your Senators and Representative to try to schedule them for a visit to your community. Groundbreakings and ribbon-cutting ceremonies provide great opportunities for photo-ops which members of Congress love, and which give them an opportunity to learn about the great work that is being done throughout rural America as a result of the federal programs that they oversee. Even if you’re not planning a big event, your legislators may be interested to see the improvements your community has made as a result of the availability of water or wastewater service. Showing them the value of these programs to rural America will help keep our communities front of mind when they return to Washington and will generate support for our projects and programs.