Local Health Departments Build Relationships with Congressional Staff and Showcase Public Health Programs

capitolBy Eli Briggs, Director of Government Affairs, NACCHO

In this era of shrinking federal budgets when programs that support local health department (LHD) activities are being cut, education and outreach to Congressional staff is particularly important. During the summer recess, Congressional staff visited LHDs to learn how they keep people healthy and safe.

In August, Health Director Claudia Blackburn and her staff from the Sedgwick County Health Department in Wichita, KS, met with Mike Zamrzla, Deputy State Director with Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS). Moran is a powerful leader in the Senate, newly-serving as Ranking Member on the Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education Appropriations Subcommittee. This subcommittee, along with its House counterpart, determines the funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Health Resources and Services Administration, and other agencies within HHS.

In preparation for meeting with Sen. Moran’s staff, Blackburn and her staff compiled a one page fact sheet that showed the sources of funding for the health department and how they had been impacted by budget cuts at the federal and state level. (Fact sheets from other LHDs are available here.)

According to Blackburn, “The meeting was an important step in establishing relationships and educating Sen. Moran’s staff on the role of Sedgwick County Health Department and our revenue streams. We found Mr. Zamrzla to be approachable, interested, and willing to share our concerns with Senator Moran.”

In September, Executive Director Amaal Tokars, MD, of the Kendall County Health Department in Illinois (about 50 miles outside of Chicago) met with Robert Johnson, Outreach Coordinator with Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL). Senator Kirk is a member of the Labor, HHS, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee and the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, which authorizes public health programs.

In the meeting, Tokars described some of services that the health department provides as a safety net resource for the community, such as behavioral health. As the director of a small health department, she was able to educate Johnson about how their department differs from a metropolitan department like Chicago.

Dr. Tokars reflected on the meeting: “I found Mr. Johnson to be to be genuinely interested in understanding our federal funding concerns and the impact of the Affordable Care Act on the work of local health departments. I also discovered through the course of our meeting that Senator Kirk’s office was very interested in the diversity of programs and services offered by our health department. The meeting quite exceeded my expectations.”

In addition, Dr. Tokars acknowledged assistance from NACCHO Government Affairs staff: “The NACCHO staff helped me at every step along the way and were available to answer any questions I had.”

NACCHO encourages all members to develop relationships with Members of Congress and their staff to highlight the work LHDs do to improve and protect the health of every member in their community.

NACCHO has the following resources to help you plan and engage Members of Congress and their staff:

Join the Congressional Action Network
At-Home Advocacy Webpage

  • Sample meeting request letter
  • Fact sheets
  • Talking points

Online Advocacy Guide

  • Who and how to engage with Congress
  • Advocacy vs. lobbying
  • Key committees with oversight of public health

Federal Budget Webpage

  • Current status of funding bills
  • Funding charts
  • Appropriations committee report language

Legislative Action Center

  • Alerts on hot topics
  • Members of Congress committee assignments and contact information

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