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By Jon Gromek
In the waning weeks of summer, Congress takes a long August recess. During this month, lawmakers schedule meetings in their home districts or states. Town hall meetings and similar types of public forums are excellent venues to ask our national decision makers questions about policies to end hunger in the United States and around the world.
Just ask Bread for the World member Barbara Fichtenberg, who lives outside Detroit, Mich.
Last week, she attended a “Congress On Your Corner” event held by U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.-12) at the Pittsfield Township Farmer’s Market. Fichtenberg used the opportunity to talk face-to-face with her congresswoman about issues that mattered to her.
“There really wasn't anyone talking with her,” Fichtenberg said. “So I got to chat with her for about 20 minutes. She didn't know much about the Global Food Security Act of 2015, so I handed her a copy of Bread's background paper, which she was glad to receive and thought she could feel good about signing on to this bill.”
The Global Food Security Act (H.R. 1567/S. 1252), if passed, would make the Feed the Future initiative permanent. Fichtenberg told Dingell about the accomplishments of the U.S. anti-hunger program, which seeks to unlock the potential of agriculture and empower women farmers. In 2014, Feed the Future helped nearly 7 million farmers gain access to new tools and technologies. Cosponsorship from Rep. Dingell and other members of Congress would help move the bill forward.
“I also asked her about childhood nutrition programs in light of sequestration cuts,” Fichtenberg continued. Sequestration is the term for broad automatic cuts to the federal budget triggered by the Budget Control Act of 2011. It affects many anti-hunger programs, including the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which serves half of all babies in the United States. Congress can choose to discontinue sequestration, but unless it acts, the cuts will stay in place.
Fichtenberg did more than just talk. She also listened to Rep. Dingell. “She is very upset about cuts to the WIC program. She told me some stories about young people she had met who were hungry.”
Afterwards, Fichtenberg followed up with me. I’m her regional organizer. I let Bread’s government relations team in Washington, D.C., know that Fichtenberg had met with Rep. Dingell. Bread’s policy experts can now check in with the congresswoman’s office and make sure they have all the information they need for her to cosponsor to the Global Food Security Act.
Fichtenberg said she had great fun meeting with her congresswoman. “I really encourage everyone to check your representative’s websites and see when they are holding events in your community.”
Most lawmakers post events on their website. Calling the local office is another way to find out about scheduled events.
Fichtenberg found one more advantage of August recess. “It’s much easier than traveling to D.C. and our elected officials are more accessible,” she said.
For tips on how to effectively use public meetings to engage with members of Congress, click here and learn more in our resource library.
Jon Gromek is a regional organizer at Bread for the World.
Photo: Barbara Fichtenberg, left, a Bread for the World member, meets with U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.-12). Photo courtesy of Barbara Fichtenberg.
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