It is impossible to overstate the importance of constituents communicating the Alliance’s message to members of Congress. The opinions that count most to representatives are those of the people who live in their district.
Without your advocacy, a significant federal investment in student aid will not happen!
- Sign our petition in support of federal student aid.
- The U.S. House of Representatives: This website lists all members of the House with their telephone numbers, regular mail addresses, and e-mail addresses. Also available are the House floor schedule, committee assignments and schedules, and information on legislation and the legislative process, as well as links to other branches of the government–the White House, the Senate, and the judiciary.
- The U.S. Senate: The Senate Web Site provides similar information on senators.
- The Library of Congress: The Thomas Web site is maintained by the Library of Congress. Through Thomas, you can obtain the full text of bills introduced in Congress, the Congressional Record, links to the House and Senate Web sites, schedules for C-SPAN, and much, much more.
While letter-writing campaigns are one of the most effective ways to contact Congress, they may not be the most efficient method today. Since the Capitol Hill anthrax scare, it takes regular U.S. Mail six to eight weeks to arrive in members offices.
We suggest using the techniques outlined for letter-writing campaigns, but instead of sending your message through regular mail, use email or fax. Remember to include your address in your email or fax.
The simplest way to contact your member of Congress is to write a letter. A letter-writing component should be included in every activity you sponsor.
Written contacts fall into three general groups: personal letters, open letters or postcards, and petitions. Since congressional offices prioritize the correspondence they receive, and respond accordingly, some types of communication are more effective than others.
Personal letters: Along with phone calls, personal letters command the greatest amount of attention in congressional offices. Letters should be brief, concise, and neat. State your message clearly at the start of the letter (“I’m contacting you because I want you to vote to substantially increase funding for federal student aid”). Then give the details of your personal story (“I am attending college today because of the federal student aid I receive”). Keep it short, and don’t forget to provide your return address.
Open letters: Although they do not carry the weight of a personal letter, open letters are the next best thing. Typically, they consist of a half-page preprinted message, followed by space for the writer to personalize the letter. Open letters can be used effectively at rallies, voter registration drives, and other events. They send a consistent message, while being both personal and easy to use.
Preprinted postcards and petitions: Postcards and petitions are the least effective form of communication, since they receive the least amount of attention in a congressional office. However, they can be a powerful tool to demonstrate interest in an issue. Delivering 5,000 postcards to members of Congress the day before a critical vote on federal student aid will let them know that their constituents care about helping students go to college.
Visit Your Elected Officials
Visit with your members of Congress as often as possible. Any time you travel to Washington, D.C., be sure to schedule a meeting with your member of Congress or the staff members responsible for higher education issues. Members also have time for constituents during congressional recesses, when they visit their district office(s). Maintaining a steady dialogue with them, even when there are no pending votes, will benefit your campus and the cause of federal student aid in the long run.
Make an appointment: Call your member’s Washington or district office and ask to speak with the scheduler. Explain that you are a concerned citizen and want to meet with your representative to talk about student aid. If the representative is not available, make an appointment with the legislative assistant who covers education or budget and appropriations matters instead. They understand the issues you are concerned with, and will make sure your message gets to the representative.
Be prepared: Go into the meeting with specific information and examples of how federal student aid increases will affect you and the people of the representative’s district. (Your institution’s financial aid office can provide you with figures.) Take with you a fact sheet that you can leave behind, such as the Summary of the Alliance Funding Proposal.
Be brief: Respect the busy schedules of representatives and their staff. A typical appointment might be about 20 minutes. Do not overstay your allotted time.
Follow up: After your meeting, write a note to the representative and the aides with whom you met. Thank them for their time, and reiterate why student aid is so important to you.