The American Counseling Association hosted the 2023 Virtual Hill Day on June 14. This event highlighted ACA’s legislative agenda for the year and included a panel on how the legislative process works and another on how to prepare counselors to meet with congressional representatives. Here are five key takeaways from the event:
1) Help advocate for these seven mental health legislative issues.
In 2023, ACA is prioritizing the following seven areas: veterans’ mental health, students’ mental health, education professionals’ mental health, maternal mental health, career counseling, student loan assistance and equitable health care.
The goal is to make mental health care more accessible by incentivizing counselors to work in areas affected by the mental health provider shortage. For example, ACA supports the Mental Health Professionals Workforce Shortage Loan Repayment Act, which would reimburse one-sixth of a counselor’s student loans for every year they work in an underserved area, and the Equal Health Care for All Act, which would make equal access to health care a protected civil right and prohibit discrimination based on race, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, age or religion.
For other important legislative issues related to mental health, visit ACA’s Government Affairs and Public Policy page.
2) Get to know your state legislature.
Know how your state legislature works. It may seem obvious, but each state works very differently. For example, some states meet every year and others every other year. In North Dakota, where Sen. Sean Cleary serves as a member of the state Senate, congressional sessions last for 80 days every other year. It’s important to know when your state legislation meets so you can determine when it’s the best time to introduce your cause to your representatives, Sen. Cleary told the audience.
3) Find allies.
Allies are invaluable for helping get legislation passed. “You do need people to be able to champion and push it [the bill] through the process,” Sen. Cleary said. “The importance of building those relationships [with allies] … when you’re advocating is tremendously beneficial.”
Washington State Rep. Mari Leavitt told counselors not to rely solely on state representatives to push legislation. Instead, she recommended they find and collaborate with “unusual allies” — other groups and organizations that support the legislation they’re pushing.
Mara Boggs, the state director for U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, agreed that allies can come from places people may not typically expect. For example, she said that state staff can be helpful advocates. These people have often been on the staff the longest and therefore are some of the most influential team members, she explained. So getting to know them could increase the changes of the legislation being seen.
4) Respect people’s time.
People’s time is important, so make sure you are organized when you meet with members of Congress, said Lisa Pino, an attorney and a Health Innovators Fellow at the Aspen Institute. She told the audience to prepare three main points about the legislation and be ready to explain why members of Congress should support it. “Being clear and consistent really helps so the agencies can more easily translate to their leadership what you’re trying to communicate,” she explained.
5) Don’t expect any guarantees.
Congressional staff members cannot make promises or guarantee that a representative will see or pass a certain piece of legislation, noted Layla Brooks, the senior legislative assistant for U.S. Rep. Troy Carter of Louisiana. She recalled how one group got upset when the bill they supported didn’t pass because they thought that asking for her support meant the legislation would definitely be signed into law.
“We [staff members] are not supposed to make promises,” Brooks said. “Give us grace and time.”
Watch a recording of 2023 Virtual Hill Day.
Learn how to engage your legislator with ACA’s Advocacy Action Toolkit.
Samantha Cooper is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.