School Nutrition Association February 2015 : Page 34
BY NADIA EGZIABHER AND NICHOLE WESTIN THE GREAT Policy Guide for Let the tips and tricks of this helpful resource turn you from an advocacy wannabe into a policy pro! 34 School Nutrıtıon • FEBRUAR Y 2015 for the School Nutrition Association involves a lot of moving parts, but the one essential piece is you . To help you face the sometimes-daunting task of speaking up—to legislators, government offi -cials and the media—advocating for school nutrition profes-sionals and the issues they face, School Nutrition turned to the experts in SNA’s Government Affairs and Media Relations department, and they have compiled this Great Policy Guide to get you started. This series of tips, ideas and how-tos is aimed at helping you become a successful advocate for SNA, all of its members and the millions of children they serve. One common obstacle that prevents some from stepping up is the idea that legislative advocacy is intimidating, time-consuming or complicated. The truth is that it is truly easier than you think and achievable by all. There is power in being a constituent in our democratic society—and every SNA member is someone’s constituent. Developing lines of communication between yourself and your political representatives, whether at the local, state or federal level, is essential to ensure that the policy makers and rule developers truly understand the busi-ness side of school meals, as well as the simple importance of ensuring all students—but especially those struggling with hunger and poverty—have access to healthy, delicious school meals. Our hope is that the resources in the Great Policy Guide will provide an irresistible motivation to make your voice heard! For more information, visit the Policy and Legislation page on SNA’s website, www.schoolnutrition.org/legislation. A successful advocacy policy
The Great Policy Guide for SNA
By Nadia Egziabher & Nichole Westin
Let the tips and tricks of this helpful resource turn you from an advocacy wannabe into a policy pro!
A successful advocacy policy for the School Nutrition Association involves a lot of moving parts, but the one essential piece is you. To help you face the sometimesdaunting task of speaking up—to legislators, government officials and the media—advocating for school nutrition professionals and the issues they face, School Nutrition turned to the experts in SNA’s Government Affairs and Media Relations department, and they have compiled this Great Policy Guide to get you started. This series of tips, ideas and how-tos is aimed at helping you become a successful advocate for SNA, all of its members and the millions of children they serve.
One common obstacle that prevents some from stepping up is the idea that legislative advocacy is intimidating, timeconsuming or complicated. The truth is that it is truly easier than you think and achievable by all. There is power in being a constituent in our democratic society—and every SNA member is someone’s constituent. Developing lines of communication between yourself and your political representatives, whether at the local, state or federal level, is essential to ensure that the policy makers and rule developers truly understand the business side of school meals, as well as the simple importance of ensuring all students—but especially those struggling with hunger and poverty—have access to healthy, delicious school meals.
Our hope is that the resources in the Great Policy Guide will provide an irresistible motivation to make your voice heard! For more information, visit the Policy and Legislation page on SNA’s website, www.schoolnutrition.org/legislation.
Reaching out to Legislators: Who
First, do you know who represents you in federal and state governments? Many people don’t vote in elections beyond declaring their pick for U.S. president. Also, bear in mind that your legislators don’t work alone. They have a team to help them with all their responsibilities. How do you find out the names and contact information of those who serve your interests in Washington and in your state capitol?
United States Senate: As you know, each state has two senators to represent every resident. You can locate your senators by visiting www.senate.gov and click on “Senators.” Once you find them, you can link to their websites, for contact information and the location of the offices they have in Washington, D.C., and in your state.
When contacting your senators’ offices, it’s important to know each often will have the largest support staff of any legislator—with up to 20+ staffers handling correspondence and policy issues. You likely will be connected to a staffer (a “legislative assistant” or to the “legislative correspondent”) who handles child nutrition issues or the “scheduler,” if you are requesting the senator visit your school! Other important staff members include the chief of staff, legislative directors and the staff assistants who field all phone calls. These staff members can—and do—speak for the senator, and they are essential in ensuring that he or she is up to date on all issues critical to the constituents in their state.
United States House of Representatives: Depending on the size your state, it might have only one member of the House—or five or 49! But there is only one who represents your particular geographic location within your state. To locate your member, visit www.house.gov and click on “Find Your Representative.” As with the Senate, you will be able to view the representative’s individual website for contact information and the location of offices in Washington and back home in your state. Unlike in the Senate, however, representatives tend to have the support of fewer staff members, but the overall structure of the team is fairly similar, with a chief of staff, scheduler, legislative assistants and legislative correspondents.
State Legislators: As with the U.S. Congress, you can find out who represents you in your State Chambers by visiting your state government’s website. Each state is different, but visiting the website can help you better understand the organizational nuances of your state government. For instance, the legislative bodies in some states only meet for a few months, while others may be in session all year long. States with legislative chambers that are only in session for a brief period of time likely will not have any support staff for the individual representatives, but bigger states (like California or New York) usually have one or two staffers who support the members of their state legislatures.
Reaching out to Legislators: How
Making that first contact with an elected official might seem intimidating. It’s not uncommon to feel overwhelmed about all the ways you could contact your representative at the state or federal level. Just pick one of the following options—they are all appropriate channels! Simply remember to always be positive and polite—and be sure to identify and promote yourself as their constituent.
Snail Mail. The good old-fashioned letter is still a great way to express your opinions on child nutrition. Depending on the size of your state, you might want to consider sending a letter to your member’s local office instead of to the office in Washington, D.C., to ensure it doesn’t get overlooked in the large volume that likely is received in the nation’s capital.
Keep your letter concise and explain your issue(s) or request, such as meal funding, an invitation to visit or a thank-you for supporting meal programs. Include an action item for your legislator—whether it’s to co-sign a bill, provide a vote, send a letter of support or opposition, visit your school or other—and extend your thanks for continued support.
Email. This remains one of the best ways to contact your representative or, even better, the staff member who is responsible for keeping the lawmaker up to date on all child nutrition issues. Your email should follow the same pattern as a written letter. Include your address or zip code in the subject line, so the staff immediately know that you are a constituent.
Social Media. Most members of Congress have a Twitter handle, as well as a Facebook page, and this is a great way to engage with them on specific issues. You will likely receive a prompt response, as social media tends to have a rapid-fire pace. Still, be sure to be succinct (and respectful, even if you are feeling angry or frustrated) in your remarks.
Web Forms. All members of the U.S. Congress have a “Contact Us” web form on their website. This can be a good way to contact them, but SNA recommends the above methods, as they have proven to be more effective. To locate your legislators’ websites, visit the www.senate.gov or www.house.gov.
Top 10 Tips for Visiting Your Member of Congress
Are you coming to SNA’s Legislative Action Conference (LAC) next month? Do you have visits scheduled with your representatives on Capitol Hill? That’s the first step. Now, make the most out of your interactions with the policymakers who are in Washington to represent you :
1. Be on time, but be flexible. A legislator’s schedule can change hourly, so if your meeting must shift, you are handed off to a staff person instead of the representative or you’re given only a few minutes to present your “ask,” know that it’s not personal and is simply the way of life on Capitol Hill. Make the best of the time you have.
2. Choose a spokesperson. If you are visiting lawmakers as part of a group, pick one spokesperson to begin the meeting. Decide in advance who will handle each specific topic that you wish to present.
3. Develop multiple versions of your speech. Prepare one version of your talking points that is longer, one that is concise and another somewhere in between. This prepares you for a wide range of possibilities in terms of time and attention span.
4. Keep it local! Focus on how any policy position or proposed legislation will impact you and your schools. If it will be positive, explain how. If it will be problematic, suggest ways to fix it.
5. Do not be politically partisan or argumentative; do explain and inform. Be friendly and positive.
6. Thank your host for his or her time, regardless of whether or not he or she agreed with you. Exchange business cards so the office has your contact for future reference.
7. Talk about what you know. If you don’t know an answer, simply say, “I can get that information for you.” Do provide any requested information promptly.
8. Make sure you have something to leave behind. Be creative! Include the SNA Position Paper, of course, but you also can create a fact sheet with details about your operation, including photos of attractive, healthy meals and happy kids.
9. Wear comfortable shoes! Regardless if you are in the U.S. Capitol or your state capitol, all that walking will take a toll.
10. Keep in contact with the legislator and the staff throughout the year.
SNA PAC: Amplifying the SNA Voice
Another important way to participate in SNA advocacy is to contribute to its Political Action PAC), members of Congress who are passionate about SNA’s issues and who have shown their support for our legislative goals. The intent behind the creation of the PAC in 1981 still holds true today: 1) To educate members of Congress about child nutrition programs, and 2) To thank those members who continue to support the programs year after year.
The PAC is governed by a volunteer board of SNA members, and that Board has the final say regarding recipients of the funds. SNA staff work in a bipartisan manner to identify congressional members who support our issues; are on committees with jurisdiction over our programs; and with whom we feel we could benefit from cultivating and enhancing relationships. In many cases, political fundraisers are the only opportunities for a representative of SNA’s legislative team to speak one on one with a legislator. And just a few minutes of access can be enough to share essential information about SNA’s members and its mission. PAC funds can help to provide that critical time.
To find out more information on the SNA PAC or to make a contribution, visit www.schoolnutrition.org/LegislationPolicy/SNAPAC.
Successful Cafeteria Site Visits
The best way to promote school nutrition programs to members of the Senate and House (and your state legislators) is to invite them to visit a school cafeteria. Site visits can be more effective than a simple office meeting, as these give your elected representative a firsthand look at how school nutrition programs actually operate, eliminating any misperceptions. Site visits also help you demonstrate your expertise. A site visit is the perfect demonstration of how the school nutrition programs work, how many children you feed, the size of your school district, the limitations of your facilities, the scope of your achievements and any concerns you may have with the programs in general.
There are many factors to consider once a legislator has accepted your invitation. Think about the message you want to convey and how best to do that through the visit. For example:
■ How would you identify need? Host the visit at a school with a high percentage of low-income students.
■ How would you promote the need for new serving lines or gain support for more time to eat? Either showcase new serving lines that resulted in increased participation or increased consumption of healthy food choices or make plans to visit one of your schools to show facility issues that impede service speed.
■ How would you promote breakfast? Plan a visit at a school with high breakfast participation or one that offers alternative service, such as breakfast in the classroom.
SNA’s online Guide to Cafeteria Site Visits provides step-bystep guidance from the invite to the events of the day. Visit www.schoolnutrition.org/PR to access this helpful tool.
Action Alerts: Two-Minute Advocacy
Three-ingredient recipes, five-minute workouts, 140-character conversations—our lives are busier than ever, and we are all looking for the fastest and most convenient ways to make our impact. That’s where Action Alerts come in! In just two minutes, you can register on SNA’s online Take Action page (www.schoolnutrition.org/takeaction) and send an email to your elected representatives in Congress. Two more clicks on the same page, and you can send an email to other stakeholders in your cafeteria, school, district and community, suggesting that they sign up and contact their legislators, too.
There will always be a wide variety of interests and time constraints that compete for the attention of your legislators and their staff. Congress needs to know which issues are of greatest importance to their constituents. By registering on the Take Action page, you will receive an Action Alert email any time SNA believes your voice will have optimal impact. It is important that you then follow through to get your message to your representative. Every email counts! When your legislator sees that constituents are paying attention—then he or she will, too!
Take Time to Submit Comments to USDA
Congress is just one key player in our policy advocacy efforts— don’t forget the critical role that USDA and the state agencies play in creating and implementing the rules that govern the child nutrition programs you offer. Congress creates the law—but it’s up to USDA to make it happen by writing related rules, regulations and guidance. Then the state agencies take that information and work with school districts toward compliance.
How can you apply your expertise and be an advocate in this part of the process? The best opportunity is to answer USDA’s call for input when it publishes a proposed or interim rule and invites public comment. The Federal Register is the publication in which these notices appear. While SNA provides official comments on behalf of the membership as a whole, individual members are highly encouraged to submit your own perspectives, as well. Do you support it? Do you oppose it? Perhaps you support the intent, but have concerns about the specifics. How will this rule impact your operation? Will there be a financial impact? Will it affect participation? Labor?
When drafting your comments, it is always best to provide facts and data to back up your positions. SNA will use SchoolNutrition.org, Tuesday Morning and other communications to ensure you are aware of any school nutrition-specific rules open for comment.
Media and advocacy are twin pillars when moving any policy goal forward. In fact, it’s such an important component that SN recently focused an entire edition on “Managing the Media for Positive Messaging.” Check out the September 2014 issue for ideas ranging from outreach to traditional media to the best use of social media approaches!
Nadia Egziahber is SNA’s Government Affairs and Media Relations coordinator and Nichole Westin is SNA director of State Legislative Affairs. Photography by jiunlimited.com.
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