Every August, members of Congress decamp from Washington, DC, to return to their home districts to meet with constituents and attend local events. 

During election years, such as 2018, this August recess presents an important opportunity for members of Congress to interact with their constituents before the November election. This opens up the door for audiologists to engage in grassroots advocacy and meet with congressional representatives. In fact, directly lobbying your members of Congress either through in-person visits to their offices, phone calls, letters, or e-mails is proven to be the best way to advance legislative priorities. 

Comprehensive advocacy programs require a multipronged approach to effectively impact members of Congress. Targeted political contributions from the Academy’s Political Action Committee (PAC) and in-person visits from the Academy’s on-staff lobbyists play a key role in helping to manage advocacy relationships and in advancing key policies. However, in-person contacts, both in Washington, DC, and in their home district, are an incredibly effective way to ensure that your member of Congress connects with you to understand the issues that are important and impactful to hearing health care and audiology. 

A study of congressional staff compiled by the Congressional Management Foundation reinforced the importance of constituent communications. Ninety-seven percent of congressional staffers responded that an in-person visit from a constituent exerted positive influence on a member’s decision on whether to support legislation. Individual e-mails and letters also were incredibly influential as members of Congress make a decision. 

There are many different ways you can get involved in an advocacy campaign. If you are interested in meeting with your legislator while he or she is home in district, you can call the district office and ask to schedule a meeting. The district office information will be available on the member of Congress’ website. Similarly, if you are planning to visit Washington DC, you can contact the Academy directly, and the Academy’s on-staff lobbyists can schedule meetings for you and help coordinate a day on Capitol Hill. 

The Academy is advocating for a number of important issues that you can work on with your members of Congress. Specifically, the Academy is concerned by several of the changes proposed in the PROSPER Act (H.R. 4508), legislation that would reauthorize the Higher Education Act. This broad and sweeping legislation significantly would impact higher education policy. The Academy specifically has identified two provisions in the legislation that are highly problematic. 

First, the legislation would eliminate the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Many professionals, including audiologists, use this program to help pay off their student loans by pursuing various public service and nonprofit employment opportunities. 

The PROSPER Act also would cap the amount of government-backed student loans that a student in a graduate program can take out to $28,500 per year. While student loan debt is spiraling out of control, there are concerns that this provision would force many current and future audiology students to the private sector for loans where there may be fewer protections, or make audiology programs cost-prohibitive for many audiologists. So far, members of Congress and congressional staffers have been receptive to the Academy’s concerns, though we need to remain engaged on the topic to ensure that these problematic provisions do not make it into any higher education reauthorization language that is passed by Congress. 

The Academy also is pursuing H.R. 2042, the Access to Frontline Health Care Act. This legislation would help offset working audiologists’ student loans by incentivizing them to work in federally defined “frontline” areas where there is a shortage of health-care professionals. Typically, frontline areas would be more rural areas, but there are urban areas as well where medical professionals are necessary. Audiologists are mentioned specifically by the legislation, as are speech-language pathologists, optometrists, chiropractors, and a number of other health-care professionals. If passed, the legislation would authorize the Department of Health and Human Services to create a federal program where medical professionals would start to have their student loans paid off after they began to work in a specific frontline area for two years. 

If an in-person meeting with your legislator, or one of his or her staffers does not seem appealing, then the Academy has resources to help quickly and easily contact your members of Congress on issues that are important. The Academy encourages you to use the Legislative Action Center, which can be found on the Advocacy section of the Academy website. This helpful tool allows you to contact your member of Congress and two senators without much difficulty. You can see what legislation the Academy is tracking, as well as timely alerts. 

The Academy also provides a platform to stay engaged. Receive monthly legislative and political updates, as well as urgent action alerts, by signing up for the Academy’s Grassroots Advocacy Network. To register, go to the Advocacy homepage on the Academy’s website and click Grassroots Advocacy Network on the left-hand side of the page. You can register on the Grassroots Advocacy Network homepage. 

Coordinated legislative campaigns where audiologists work with their legislators back home allow the Academy’s advocacy staff to supplement those efforts in Washington, DC. We have seen excellent examples of local advocacy in 2018 with members in Michigan and California attending local PAC events for legislators who are supportive of Academy efforts. We need to continue to build upon those efforts to ensure that legislators are considering audiologists as they look to policy changes in health care. 

With a strong grassroots presence, the Academy will be well-positioned for the remainder of the 115th Congress. If you have any additional questions about the Grassroots Advocacy Network or on lobbying your elected officials, contact me directly at afinkel@audiology.org. 

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