Tips for Small Business Owners On Contacting Your Members of Congress
Contacting Congress may not be at the top of a small business owner’s list of strategies to help their company – but it should be. As 2020 rolls on, the federal government will consider bills to address the economic down-turn, the pandemic, institutional racism, and other issues that impact small businesses. The best way to make sure that any new laws provide the precise help you need is to let your representatives in Congress know exactly what you want.
The first step in advocating for your small business is to learn how to get in touch with your congresspeople to let them know your position on the bills that they are considering.
Who Represents You in Congress?
If you live in a U.S. state, you have 3 representatives in Congress: 2 senators (who each represent the entire state) and 1 member of the House of Representatives (who represents a single district within the state).
- To find your senators: Go to the list of senators on the official Senate website (senate.gov). There is a drop down list called “Choose Your State” at the top of the page. Click on your state and the names of your 2 Senators will appear as well as links to their web pages.
- To find your representative: Go to the official House website (house.gov). At the top of the page there is a “Find Your Representative” section. Enter your zip code and your representative’s name will appear as well as a link to their web page.
Contacting Your Congresspeople:
Thanks to the Internet, there are many ways to contact your congresspeople. However, some are not as impactful as others. You want to use the methods that congressional offices actually track.
- Telephone: Congressional offices count the number of phone calls that they receive on important issues. An easy and quick way to weigh in with your congressperson is to call and tell the receptionist whether or not you support a specific bill. (For example, “Tell the congresswoman to support H.R. 123 that provides more loans to small businesses.”) The phone number for the Capitol Switchboard is 202-224-3121. They can connect you to any Senate or House office.
- Email: Congressional offices also count the number of emails that they receive on any issue. An email allows you to go into more depth than a phone call and also allows you to tell your personal story. You can find your senators’ and representative’s email addresses on their websites.
- Meet with your congresspeople or their staff: Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, constituents could call or email a congressperson’s office and ask to speak to the Scheduler (the person who handles the congressperson’s calendar) to set up a meeting. However, congressional offices have suspended most in-person activities because of the pandemic. Meeting-by-phone with the staff-person who covers small businesses is an option available in some offices. The best way to find out how your representatives’ office is handling things during this health crisis is to call them and ask.
A note about mailing materials to Congress: Ever since the anthrax attacks on Congress in 2001, any mail to members of Congress must be de-contaminated before it is sent on to the offices. This creates delays. To ensure that your letters, petitions and other materials get to your congresspeople in a timely manner, you should email them.
Getting Your Message Across:
Regardless of how you contact your congresspeople, there are some things you should do to make your communications with them as effective as possible. Remember, Members of Congress and their staff are very busy and get a lot of requests. Be clear and specific in your calls and emails to them. The easier you make it for them to do what you want, the more likely it is that they will be able to do it.
- Say that you are a constituent: Congressional offices only count calls or emails from constituents when tallying opinions on an issue. In addition to stating that you are a constituent, you should include your address on any letters or other written communications you send through email. If you are leaving a voicemail message for the congressperson you should also leave your address. Always include your zip code with your address.
- Be as specific as possible: In Congress, there are many bills filed on any single topic. If you write to a congressperson and say, “co-sponsor the bill on small businesses” they will not know which bill you mean. So, if you know the bill number or the bill name, include it in your email or call. If you don’t know either, do your best to describe what the bill will do.
- Be clear in your “ask”: Congresspeople do a lot of different things on any given issue. For example, they can introduce bills, co-sponsor bills, speak about a bill, sign a letter about a bill…the list is nearly endless. State unambiguously what you want the congressperson to actually do (lobbyists call this “the ask”). If you simply request that they “support” or “oppose” something, you may not get the result that you want.
Contacting your Members of Congress can be an effective tool in advocating for your small business. My next article will explore the different ways that your congressperson can help you.