Nita Lowey
Representative Nita Lowey has been a key Congressional proponent for prioritizing educational opportunity in foreign aid and development programs. She is an outspoken advocate for women, children and families, championing issues related to education in the United States and abroad.

Currently serving her 15th term in Congress representing New York’s 17th district, Rep. Lowey was the first woman to serve as a Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee.

Rep. Nita Lowey, along with Congressmen Dave Reichert, introduced the Reinforcing Education Accountability in Development (READ) Act, to enhance transparency and accelerate the impact of U.S. basic education programs around the world. The READ Act passed into law on September 8, 2017.

The READ Act calls for:

  • Engagement with key partner countries and nongovernmental institutions to promote sustainable, quality basic education.
  • A comprehensive, integrated U.S. strategy that improves educational opportunities and addresses key barriers to school attendance, retention and completion for the poorest children worldwide.
  • A senior coordinator within the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to oversee the education aspects of foreign aid.
  • An annual report to Congress on the implementation of the basic education strategy and progress achieved by USAID programs.

Worldwide, more than 263 million children and youth are out of school. In addition, 250 million primary school age children are lacking basic literacy and numeracy skills. Studies have shown that for every year a girl stays in school, her future income increases by 15 to 25 percent.

Rep. Nita Lowey strongly believes that prioritizing education around the world will “ultimately protect vulnerable children from poverty, disease, hunger and even extremism.”

On why the READ Act is such an important piece of legislation, Rep. Lowey’s Press Secretary Mike Burns told The Borgen Project:

“Without a doubt, education is the greatest force multiplier in foreign aid. The READ Act will enhance our global education efforts, removing barriers to education for those out of school and improving the quality of education for those already enrolled. Prioritizing education around the world will not only help students learn to read and write—it will ultimately help protect vulnerable communities from hunger and disease and increase economic advancement, particularly for girls and women.

“Simply put, by putting education at the center of our efforts, this bill moves us further down the path to building the world we want for ourselves and for future generations. This is a tremendous bipartisan achievement.”

Rep. Nita Lowey continues to be a leading Congressional proponent of educational opportunity, a leading international role for the United States, health care quality and biomedical research, stricter public safety laws, environmental protection, women’s issues, national security and improved homeland security preparedness.

– Sydney Lacey

Photo: Google

how to influence Congress
Lobbying the government for one’s self-interest is often seen as the dirty business of big corporations. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, $3.36 billion was spent on lobbying in 2017 by more than 11,500 lobbyists. While these figures may seem daunting to the novice voter, the power to bring change is still strongly held by constituents. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads, in part, “Congress shall make no law…prohibiting the free exercise…to petition the Government for the redress of grievances.”

With big corporations having many financial tools at their disposal, it may seem that they have the ear of those in Congress. However, most of the lobbying industry is funded by a variety of other organizations. Some of these include local banks, schools, hospitals and religious institutions, all of them lobbying for great causes such as ending breast cancer and diabetes and preventing AIDS. When learning how to influence Congress, persistence, organization and dedication are required, but anybody can make a change.

How to Influence Congress Effectively

  1. Learn the Best Way to Communicate
    Reach out to staffers or to a member of Congress to find out the best way to communicate with them. Different congressional offices weigh messages differently. (202) 224-3121 is the Capital switchboard and they can direct the call straight to your representative’s office.
  2. Send Effective Messages
    When reaching out to a member of Congress, make sure to identify yourself, state the issue you are advocating and explain how it relates to the community. The Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University polled 3,000 congressional staffers about which activities have the biggest influence on members of Congress. They considered “providing consistently reliable information” and “presenting a concise argument” to be the two most effective actions when lobbying or advocating for an issue.
  3. Use Social Media
    The Congressional Management Foundation, an organization dedicated to figuring out the inner workings of Congress, says “social media is often the most effective way to reach members of Congress online.” Twitter was found to be the most used social media platform of congressional offices, but the usage of and the impact varies from member to member.
  4. Respect Congressional Staffers
    It is important to treat congressional staffers with respect. They hold a great amount of leverage and often act as gatekeepers to certain members of Congress. Staffers can be the greatest ally a constituent can have in Washington and can help mold certain inquiries.
  5. Show Up in Person
    Calling, messaging and tweeting are certainly impactful and convenient ways on how to influence Congress, but showing up in person at town halls and public events is the most powerful way to reach members of Congress. Make sure to bring talking points and questions. Bring friends if possible; large numbers have large voices. Get there early and connect with staffers, as most town halls are staffed by senior-level state staffers. Many constituents assume that only D.C. staffers can influence the policy-making decisions, but getting to know the state players is a key part of advocacy.

Influencing a member of Congress is not achievable only by those in the upper echelons of society. Anybody can reach out and tell their story. Members of Congress want to hear from their constituents. They want to make policy decisions that best adhere to the voices in their community, but they can only do those if those voices speak out.

– Aaron Stein

Photo: Google

Bipartisan measures
On July 27, 2017, the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed nine new bipartisan measures, including the Protecting Girls’ Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act. This bill recognizes the need for comprehensive primary and secondary education for refugee children, especially women and girls, as they systematically face greater obstacles in obtaining an education. If passed, this bill would ensure Congress works with both private and multilateral organizations to implement educational programs abroad.

Democratic Rep. Robin Kelly, a co-sponsor of the bill along with Republican Rep. Steve Chabot, spoke for the bill in a markup. Kelly pointed out that 65 million people, half of whom are under 18, have been displaced since the beginning of 2017, and four million displaced children lack access to elementary education.

Kelly claimed that displaced children are more vulnerable to abduction, poverty, and early marriage when they cannot attend school and that school can help displaced children cope with trauma and overcome feelings of isolation by providing a community.

Related measures passed include the North Korean Human Rights Reauthorization Act of 2017, which supports North Korean refugees and advocates for radio broadcasting in North Korea, as well as the resolution entitled “Supporting respect for human rights and encouraging inclusive governance in Ethiopia.” All of the measures passed received bipartisan support, and several have bipartisan sponsorship.

During markups, Congressional committees discuss, amend and rewrite proposed legislation. In this markup, seven of the nine measures discussed were amended, but all passed at the end of the session. Rep. Ed Royce, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, reported the measures favorably and was authorized to seek House consideration of the measures under suspension of the rules.

“Suspension of the rules” is a procedure used to save time when discussing relatively uncontroversial bills. Rep. Royce likely ordered a suspension of the rules based on the bipartisan nature of the measures discussed. This fact means that when the measures are discussed next in the House, they will be unamendable and debate will be limited to forty minutes.

As these bipartisan measures all passed without much dispute, they will likely continue to move quickly through the House of Representatives.

Caroline Meyers

Photo: Flickr

What is the House of Representatives?
What is the House of Representatives? The House of Representatives is one of two chambers that make up the United States Congress (the other is the Senate). The House consists of 435 representatives who serve the people of all 50 states. Five delegates represent the District of Columbia and four of the U.S. territories (American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands), and a resident commissioner represents Puerto Rico. The number of representatives per state depends on the state’s population size, allowing each state to be proportionately represented in Congress. Alaska, for example, has only one state representative, while California has 53. This is because California’s population is close to 53 times that of Alaska. This population-to-representative ratio does not apply to the District of Columbia or the five U.S. territories; rather, they are allowed one delegate each.

To find out how many representatives there are in any state, visit the United States House of Representatives directory. The United States House of Representatives website assists citizens in finding their district and representative.

Representatives are referred to as congressmen, congresswomen or simply representatives. Constituents, often divided by district, elect representatives to two-year terms. Districts are used to allow the state’s population to be more accurately represented in Congress. The state of Alaska is not split into different congressional districts; therefore, the state only has one representative. California’s 53 representatives each represent one district within the state.

So what exactly does the House of Representatives do? Powers exclusive to the House of Representatives include initiating tax bills, impeaching federal officials and choosing the President in the case of a tie in the electoral college. The House has several other powers; however, these can only be carried out with the inclusion of the Senate. Congress introduces or passes new laws and changes existing laws. Congress can also override a president’s veto under specific conditions.

The House of Representatives is a chamber of Congress made up of representatives who act on behalf of their constituents. Remember that these representatives are in place to serve the people. Asking a member of Congress to support bills that fight global poverty or fund the international affairs budget is as easy as sending an email or making a phone call.

Catherine Ticzon

Photo: Flickr