Sunday, June 15, 2014

Lobby Day is More than Just "Lobby Day"

Colorado & New Mexico advocates at Hart Senate Building
Hundreds of congregations around the country wrote about food-aid reform this year, which set the stage for a very important action: a simple vote on agricultural appropriations on Wednesday, June 11. 

Two days before the vote, hundreds of calls were also logged into the congressional offices on Virtual Lobby Day on Monday, June 9, urging our members of Congress to improve our federal programs that provide direct and emergency assistance.  

And on Lobby Day itself, Bread advocates from 34 states and the District of Columbia visited the offices of their elected officials in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate to make the same request. For good measure, I visited the office of Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Wednesday morning, June 11, to ask for her support for  the amendment once it came to a vote on the floor.

Award for Rep. Bachus
Amendment Announced at Lobby Day Reception
Bread for the World honored five legislators at a reception at the end of Lobby Day. Three legislators--Rep. Spencer Bachus, a Republican from  Alabama; Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat from  Iowa; and Rep. Frank Wolf, a Republican from Virginia--were honored with an award that recognized their efforts to address hunger and poverty during their congressional careers. (All three are set  to retire at the end of their current term).

Two other legislators  were also honored at the Lobby Day reception for their work on food-aid reform. Rep. Ed Royce of California and Rep. Eliot Engel of New York. Royce, a Republican is chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Engel, a Democrat, is the minority leader in the same committee.

David Beckmann & Rep. Ed Royce
When Rep. Royce took the podium after receiving an award, he described the strong bipartisan efforts in the committee. And then he made a very important announcement. He was set to introduce an amendment the next day he would sponsor a bipartisan amendment during debate on the House fiscal year 2015 agricultural appropriations bill to to provide funding for the USDA Local and Regional Purchase (LRP) program. This would help more people receive U.S. food aid at no additional cost. The LRP program was reauthorized at $80 million in the in the 2014 farm bill.  The amendment passed!  Read more in the Bread blog.

The amendment was apparently approved via a voice vote, so we have no record on how Reps. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Rep. Steve Pearce and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan voted. We met twice with Rep. Lujan Grisham.  On Lobby Day, Larry and Ellen Buelow and I met with one of her legislative assistants to discuss food-aid reform and immigration reform. On Wednesday, with the knowledge that the vote on the amendment was pending, I returned to her office in Cannon House Building to talk to her aide in charge of foreign affairs and urge support for the amendment.  Larry, Ellen and I did not meet with aides to Rep. Pearce and Rep. Lujan on Lobby Day, since none of us is a constituent.  But we dropped off materials about food-aid reform and immigration reform in both offices.

At Sen. Udall's  constituent coffee
And we had two opportunities to bring up food-aid reform to Sen. Udall. On Lobby Day, we met with two of his legislative assistants at Hart Senate building, and on Wednesday morning, Larry, Ellen and I attended the constituent coffee, where we brought the issue up directly to the senator. (And we also spoke about the emerging Interfaith Hunger Coalition in New Mexico). 

The constituent coffees offer great networking opportunities. We were able to make connections with some members of the New Mexico Public Health Association.

On Lobby Day, we also met with a legislative aide at Sen. Martin Heinrich's office, which is also in the Hart Building.

More from the New Mexico Grassroots
As of June 13, New Mexico congregations had written nearly 800 letters to Sen. Udall, Sen. Heinrich, Rep. Lujan Grisham, Rep. Pearce and Rep. Lujan about food-aid reform. One letter-writer, Kirsten Marr, at First Presbyterian Church in Albuquerque, took time to write additional letters to key legislators. One of those letters went to Rep. Royce and the other to Rep. Frank Lucas, chair of the House Agriculture Committee.  Kirsten was in charge of organizing the letter-writing efforts at First Presbyterian Church (which held its inaugural Offering of Letters this year!)

And there was also  good participation from folks in New Mexico on Virtual Lobby Day. I want to thank Lynette Rose, Bro. Jim Brown, Chris Spahn, Javier Aceves, Karla Ice, Art Meyer, Kathy Freeze, Ivan Westergaard, Pat Sheely, and Lucretia Tippit for making calls and/or keeping us in their prayers. (A number of those calls went to Rep. Ben Ray Lujan!)

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