FAQ About Advocacy

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Communicating With Your Legislator’s Office

The Legislative Process

Where can I find contact information for my legislator’s office?Where can I find contact information for my legislator’s office?
Go to NAHRO’s website: www.nahro.org
Go to the “Congressional Relations/NAHRO Advocacy” tab on the top of the webpage and click on "Advocacy Center".
Type in your zip code on the right hand side of the Advocacy Center and then hit "Go."
Once you have found your legislator towards the bottom of the page, click on “info.” Using the tab "contact" on the top, you will find the phone number to the Washington, DC office, as well as other information including a link to the member’s website. If you would like to know which committees your legislator sits on, click on the “committee” tab at the top of the screen. If you would like to know which bills relevant to affordable housing and community development your legislator has sponsored or cosponsored, click on the “bills” tab at the top of the screen.

Who is the best person to speak with in my legislator's office?
The best person to speak with in your legislator’s office is the legislative assistant who handles housing and community development issues for the office. The best way to find contact information for this individual is to call either the district or the member’s Washington, DC office and request the person who handles the affordable housing issues for the office. The staff person who answers the call should be able to answer your question and connect you by phone to that person in the office.

What is the best way to communicate or make contact with my legislator's office?
The best way to communicate with a staff person who handles housing issues for your legislator is to call or email that person directly. Though many websites have a general email address to send your concerns to, this is usually not as effective as calling or sending emails directly to the staffer who handles the issues you care about.

How can I find the email address of the legislative assistant who handles housing and/or community development for the office?
Email addresses of staffers are not always easy to find via the web. Front office staff is not permitted to release that information to the general public, so if you have already made contact with the legislative assistant in charge of housing for the office, simply ask them for their email address. They will most likely give it to you. However, if you have not made contact with the legislative assistant, it is usually not hard to figure out their email address, since the addresses usually take on a very similar format:

For staffers working for a member of the House of Representatives, the general format is: firstname.lastname@mail.house.gov.  For example, if John Smith works for a House member, his email address would be john.smith@mail.house.gov.

For staffers working on the Senate side, their email address is slightly different.  The address usually takes on the format of: firstname_lastname@lastnameofsenator.senate.gov  For instance, if Sarah Johnson works for Senator McCain, her email address would be: sarah_johnson@mccain.senate.gov.

Therefore, just knowing the spelling of a staffer’s name may allow you to identify their email address.  If you are unsure of the spelling of the legislative assistant’s name, try calling the front desk and asking for the proper spelling. If you still have problems finding the legislative assistant’s email address, please contact Tess Hembree at NAHRO - thembree@nahro.org

What are some tips for sending an email?
Member of Congress and congressional staff regularly correspond via e-mail. This is a quick and efficient method of reaching a member of Congress or his/her legislative aides. Again, sending an email directly to the legislative assistant who handles affordable housing issues for the office is the most effective way of being heard.
To send an e-mail message, it is important to be aware of the following:

  1. Congressional offices receive thousands of e-mail messages a week. Even though e-mail is a nearly immediate form of communication, you should not expect an immediate response.
  2. Most congressional offices have a webpage. Check the office’s webpage using the NAHRO site first before sending an email to your member requesting information or expressing a concern.
  3. The more specific you can be with regard to local/constituent concerns, the better. Be very specific and concise in explaining the purpose of the message in the subject area of the address.
  4. State at the beginning of your message that you are a constituent (constituent concerns are given priority over other correspondence). Be certain to explain very clearly the purpose of your correspondence and how you would like your representative to address your concern.
  5. Include your name, address and phone number at the end of the e-mail. Staff may respond to your e-mail by e-mailing/sending information to you. It also keeps you in their database for future correspondence.
  6. Try to keep your email short and to the point. Only discuss one or two issues at the most in your email. Most of the time these emails will be read from a blackberry or smart phone.
  7. Finally, remember that e-mail is no substitute for direct personal interaction with congressional staff.

What are some tips for calling my member's office?
First, ask to speak to the legislative assistant who handles housing or community development for the Congressperson (unless of course, you happen to be on a first name basis with the Congressperson or already have a relationship with a staff person in the office).

If you are told the legislative assistant is not in or is not available (which is often the case), verify that he or she is the proper person to speak to about the issue. If he or she is the proper person, ask when they might be available. If the response is they will not be returning for several days, ask to speak to the person handling the issue for him or her in their absence, or ask to speak with the Legislative Director. This may in many cases get you to a legislative aide or legislative correspondent who is the support person to the legislative assistant. The legislative correspondent answers the mail and screens phone calls. Tell the aide what you want the Congressperson to do, following the talking points provided by NAHRO.

Leaving a Message:
If no one is available to talk with you, leave a message stating the subject of your call and who you want to talk to.  Messages that tell a Congressional office that a subject is “hot” in his district or state have an impact, and those calls are usually returned.  But remember that not every issue is a “hot” issue.  Be judicious about how you describe your request.  If you get connected directly to a staff person’s voicemail, quickly state why you are calling, how they can reach you and when you will be available.  Make sure to be available when you say you will be!

Call Early and Often:
If you do not get a return call by the end of the day, call back and go through the same drill again.  Always leave a message with your name, name of your agency, telephone number, and subject of your call. Persistence is important. Call early and follow-up.

How much time should I allot for phone calls or an in-person meeting with my legislator's office?
Generally, you should plan on a phone call lasting no longer than 10-15 minutes and an in-person meeting lasting no longer than 30 minutes.  In order to be effective in this limited time, we suggest that you speak to those issues of greatest importance to your agency towards the beginning of the conversation.  Having an agenda for your personal use is recommended.

Should I contact my district office or the Washington DC office?
Maintaining a working relationship with both your local district office and your member’s Capitol Hill office is important.  Local district office staff are best at handling constituent-oriented issues or issues involving local and regional offices of the federal government.  As a rule of thumb, Washington, DC staff handle matters involving federal housing policy, federal appropriations for programs you administer, program reform and new housing and community development oriented legislation. 

How do I schedule a meeting on Capitol Hill?
No matter what the purpose of your trip—a conference, a meeting with HUD officials, a vacation—plan to stop by your Congressperson’s office. You are much more likely to meet with your Congressperson or their legislative assistant and be well received if you plan ahead and call ahead for an appointment. Be sure to call for an appointment two to four weeks in advance, identifying yourself and the subjects you want to discuss.  If you would like to meet with your representative, the first point of contact should be their scheduler.  

Call NAHRO’s Washington Office (202-580-7215) and let us know when you’re coming and with whom you’ll be meeting. NAHRO can brief you on current housing and community development issues before the Congress, provide talking points for you, and brief you on the Congressman and his positions on housing and community development matters. If you wish, national NAHRO will accompany you on your visit.

What sort of material, if any, should I bring with me to my meeting?
Some suggested items to bring:

  • Photos of successful developments (including people in the photos)Posters or other public relations pieces that promote your agency or community. The next time you visit you may find them on the walls of their office!
  • Data that best describes or provides back-up regarding the issue you wish to discuss.
  • A one pager to leave behind that states your issues and requests what you would like of your Representative.

Is it best to attend a meeting alone, or should I bring others?
In numbers, there is strength. If several members of your agency or community members are coming to Washington at the same time, get together ASAP and request a meeting with your Senators and Congresspersons.  A show of force where representatives from many different organizations speak out on a single point demonstrates to your member of Congress that he or she has a broad constituency for housing and community development programs and resources.

Call NAHRO’s Washington Office (202-580-7215) and let us know when you’re coming and with whom you’ll be meeting. NAHRO can brief you on current housing and community development issues before the Congress, provide talking points for you, and brief you on the Congressman and his positions on housing and community development matters. If you wish, national NAHRO will accompany you on your visit.

What should I cover in an in-person meeting?
First, prepare an agenda.
Prepare an agenda of items you wish to discuss and related “talking points” for your use during your meeting.  Remember to:
• Be specific, don’t try to cover too much.
• Describe the problem or issue.
• Spell out what steps you want your Congress person to take to help resolve the problem
• Include the NAHRO Legislative Positions in your talking points.

At your meeting
• Make sure to give the Congressperson and their staff aide your business card at the beginning of the meeting.
• Describe what your agency does.
• Speak with one voice.  Nothing destroys an organization's effectiveness and credibility on Capitol Hill more than its members suggesting to Congress funding levels or program reforms different from that put forth by their national membership association like NAHRO.
• Get right to the point.
• Avoid using acronyms or section numbers to describe programs.
• Don't waste their time with idle chat. A Congressperson’s time, as well as yours, is important.
• Educate them on key issues and offer suggestions on how to resolve those issues.  Ask him/her if they have a position on your issues. Keep in mind your Congressperson doesn’t spend all of his/her time thinking about “how to renew funding for the Section 8 program” or what funding level the CDBG program should get. That said, you are their constituent, as are the people you serve in your community. So. let him/her know where you stand and why.
• Thank them if they have recently been supportive on a housing or community development issues that matter to you.  Also, let them know you’re watching.
• Encourage them to become a champion or actively engaged in matters that affect housing and community development funding and programs.

Stick to the Script:
It is important that your message be clear and uniform to all members of Congress. Nothing destroys an organization’s credibility and effectiveness more than sending mixed messages or changing positions.  As much as possible, follow NAHRO’s talking points. Updated information on NAHRO positions are included on the NAHRO website.

Do not engage in modifying a position:
In your conversation with Hill staff, you may be asked if you, or NAHRO, would support something different than the talking points. If you are asked this, say you will have to think about it and suggest that Hill staff call NAHRO directly so that NAHRO can keep up-to-date on options, consult with affected parties, and, where necessary, reformulate a position.

Please remember this: The NAHRO position has been developed as a result of long and careful deliberation by NAHRO committees and the Board of Governors. Our positions may also be part of a larger effort involving a number of other public interest groups and associations.  Staying on message is important! 

When is it a good idea to schedule a meeting with my district office?
First and foremost, if you are attending NAHRO’s Legislative Conference, you should schedule a meeting for when you are here in Washington.  However, if that is not possible and trips to Washington are difficult to organize, meetings with your local district office staff are always encouraged.  More specifically,during recess or “district work periods,” Congress is not in session. Members are in their home districts and states touching base with their constituents, traveling, holding field hearings, and attending town meetings. This is a good time to seek a meeting with your Senators and Representative on your own turf, to take him or her on a tour of local projects/programs of which you are most proud, to meet residents and see the benefits of HUD programs in terms of jobs created, self sufficiency efforts, and the like. It is a good time to reemphasize the importance of HUD housing and community development programs, necessary program reforms, and adequate funding to your community.

Finally, most Members travel to their district every weekend. They are often in the district Friday through Monday. Call your Congressperson’s District Office to arrange a meeting, or ask them to visit your agency. Remember; call at least three weeks in advance!

How do I know when Congress is in recess?
Congress goes into recess several times a year.  The specific dates that Congress is in recess vary each year, however.  Additionally, be advised that the Senate and the House do not always share the same recess, though the dates are somewhat similar.

To view the House recess schedule, visit: http://www.majorityleader.gov/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/114thCongressFirstSession.pdf 
To view the Senate recess schedule, visit: http://www.senate.gov/legislative/resources/pdf/2015_calendar.pdf

What is useful information to know before I communicate or meet with my legislators office?
There are several items that would be useful to know prior to meeting w/ your member of Congress or their staff, but this should not discourage you from meeting or communicating with the office if you otherwise do not have time to prepare as noted below.

  1. It is important to know where your member of Congress stands on housing issues that are important to you.  To learn about where they stand, check out their official website or their voting record. 
  2. It is also important to see what bills they have sponsored or cosponsored that may otherwise relate to the issues you care about.   There are several ways to see what bills they have sponsored, however, the easiest way to see affordable housing bills important to NAHRO membership is to visit NAHRO’s Advocacy Center:
  3. Additionally, it is important to know on which committee(s) your member sits.  Some committees have much more influence over the issues you care about than others.  The best way to learn what committee your member sits on is to visit your legislator’s webpage or to visit NAHRO’s Advocacy Center.  Follow the steps below to see what committee your legislator sits on. 

How do I find out what bill my legislator has sponsored/what committee they sit on?

  • Go to NAHRO’s website: www.nahro.org
  • Go to the “Congressional Relations/NAHRO Advocacy” tab on the top of the webpage and click on "Advocacy Center".
  • Type in your zip code on the right hand side of the Advocacy Center and then hit "Go."
  • Once you have found your legislator towards the bottom of the page, click on “info.” Using the tab "contact" on the top, you will find the phone number to the Washington, DC office, as well as other information including a link to the member’s website.
  • To find the housing bills that may be of interest to you, click on the “bills” tab at the top of the screen
  • To find all the bills that your legislator has sponsored, visit www.thomas.gov. Under the “Browse Bills by Sponsor” heading choose your representative or senator from the drop down menu and then click “go.”

How do I find out the status of a legislator’s bill?
The status of a bill can be easily searched through the www.thomas.gov database.

  • Go to Thomas.Gov
  • On the homepage you will see a box titled “Search Bill Summary & Status.” Click “Bill Number” then type in the bill number in the open box. For instance, if it is a House bill, type HR 3045. If it is a Senate bill, type S 3045.
  • Click Search.
  • Review the last major action taken on the bill.

How do I invite my member of Congress to speak at my NAHRO conference or meeting?
When your NAHRO chapter or region has a conference, consider inviting your member of Congress to attend and speak. If he or she can’t make it, ask his or her Legislative Assistant for housing/community development to address your group. This helps members and congressional staffers become better informed and more closely engaged on matters of interest to you. 

Call NAHRO’s Congressional Relations, Public Affairs & Field Operations Department when planning your conference for assistance and support in inviting members/staff to attend. Remember, they may need as much as two to three months advance notice in order to appear, so plan early. As a courtesy, members of your state or regional delegation to Congress should be invited to your conference.  If they are unable to attend, they may send a staff member. Invitations to speak or attend local conferences keep your agency, NAHRO and housing and community development issues on their radar.

Legislative Process and Definitions

How does a bill become a law?

Step 1: Introduction of Bill
Any member of Congress can introduce legislation.  Once a bill is introduced and assigned a number, it is referred to the appropriate committee/s of jurisdiction by the Speaker of the House.  If the bill is introduced by a Senator, it will be referred to a Senate committee.  If a bill is introduced by a member from the House of Representatives, it will be referred to a House committee.  Bills can be referred to more than one committee and in some cases different parts of a bill may be referred to more than one committee depending on the content.  However, this does not necessarily mean that there will be action taken on the bill. 

Step 2: Committee Action
Once a committee has received a bill, the following steps will occur if/when the committee decides to take action on the bill (Remember it is entirely possible that no action will be taken on an introduced bill by the assigned committee):
1. Comments about the bill's merit are requested by government agencies.
2. Bills can be assigned to subcommittee/s of a full committee (e.g. housing subcommittee) by a Committee Chairman.
 3. Hearings may be held.
   4. If a bill was referred to a subcommittee, once action is taken subcommittees report their findings to the full committee.
5. A committee will hold a "mark-up" session during which it will make revisions and additions. The chamber must approve, change or reject all committee amendments before conducting a final passage vote.

6. Finally there is a vote by the full committee - the bill is "ordered to be reported."
7. After the bill is reported, the committee staff prepares a written report explaining why they favor the bill and why amendments should be adopted. Committee members who oppose a bill sometimes write a dissenting opinion in the report. The report is sent back to the whole chamber and is placed on the calendar.
8. In the House, bills are considered by the Rules Committee before reaching the floor. The committee adopts rules that will govern the procedures under which the bill will be considered by the full House. A "closed rule" for example sets strict time limits on debate and forbids the introduction of amendments.  Once approved by the committee, rules can have a major impact on whether the bill passes. In certain instances the Rules Committee can be bypassed in three ways: 1) members can move rules to be suspended (requires 2/3 vote) 2) a discharge petition can be filed 3) the House can use a Calendar Wednesday procedure.

Step 3: Floor Action

           1. Legislation is placed on the Calendar

House: Bills are placed on one of four House Calendars. They are usually placed on the calendars in the order of which they are reported yet they don't usually come to floor in this order - some bills never reach the floor at all. The Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader decide what will reach the floor and when. (Legislation can also be brought to the floor by a discharge petition.)

Senate: Legislation is placed on the Legislative Calendar. There is also an Executive calendar to deal with treaties and nominations. Scheduling of legislation is the job of the Majority Leader. Generally speaking, bills can be brought to the floor whenever a majority of the Senate chooses.

2. Debate

House: Debate is limited by the rules formulated in the Rules Committee. The Committee of the Whole debates and amends the bill but cannot technically pass it. Debate is guided by the Sponsoring Committee and time is divided equally between proponents and opponents. The Committee decides how much time to allot to each person. Amendments must be germane to the subject of a bill - no riders are allowed. The bill is ultimately reported back to the House (to itself) and is voted on. Senate: debate is unlimited unless cloture is invoked. Members can speak as long as they want and amendments need not be germane - riders are often offered. Entire bills can therefore be offered as amendments to other bills. Unless cloture is invoked, Senators can use a filibuster to defeat a measure by in effect "talking it to death."

3. Vote - the bill is voted on.  Once passed, bills are then sent to the opposite chamber unless that chamber already has a similar measure under consideration. If either chamber fails to pass or act on a bill, then it dies. If the House and Senate pass the same bill then it is sent to the President. If the House and Senate pass different bills they are sent to Conference Committee to resolve their differences.

Step 4: Conference Committee

1. Members from the House and the Senate form a conference committee and meet to work out the differences between each chambers version of a given bill. The committee is usually made up of senior members who are appointed by the presiding officers of the committee that originally deliberated on a bill.   Representatives from each house usually work to maintain their version of the bill.
2. If a Conference Committee reaches a compromise, it prepares a written conference report, which is submitted to each chamber.
            3. The conference report must be approved by both the House and the Senate.

Step 5: Bill Goes to President for Review

1. A bill becomes law if signed by the President or if it is not signed within 10 days and Congress remains in session.
2. If Congress adjourns before the 10 days and the President has not signed the bill then it does not become law.  This is referred to as a "Pocket Veto."
3. If the President vetoes a bill it is sent back to Congress with a note listing his/her reasons. The chamber that originated the legislation can attempt to override the veto by a vote of two-thirds of those present. If the veto of the bill is overridden in both chambers then it becomes law.

Step 6: The Bill Becomes a Law

Once a bill is signed by the President or his veto is overridden by both houses, it becomes a law and is assigned an official number.

What is a sponsor?  What is a cosponsor?
A sponsor is the congressional member who originally introduces the bill.  A cosponsor is a member who adds his or her name to a bill that already has an original sponsor to show their support for the bill.  However, a bill does not need cosponsors to be introduced or to move ahead in the legislative process. 

What is a hearing?
A hearing is held within a committee or subcommittee.  In a hearing, parties affected by a piece of legislation or an issue are invited to testify. 

How do I view a hearing?
Unless a hearing is officially closed to the general public for security or other concerns, anyone can attend a hearing on Capitol Hill-- all you have to do is show up! Some hearings are more popular than others so space does at times become an issue.   Most hearings also can be seen live via webcast and are usually archived for others to view shortly after the hearing.  You can also usually read written testimony submitted by the witnesses.  Details of hearings, written testimonies and archived hearings can be found on a committee’s website.  For example, to see the details and webcast of the hearing, “Academic Perspectives on the Future of Public Housing,” visit http://www.house.gov/apps/list/hearing/financialsvcs_dem/hchr_072909.shtml.

What is a congressional committee?
A congressional committee is a legislative sub-organization in Congress that handles a specific area of responsibility (i.e. banking, agriculture) rather than the general duties of Congress. As "little legislatures," committees monitor on-going governmental operations, identify issues suitable for legislative review, gather and evaluate information, and recommend courses of action to their parent body.

What is a mark-up?
A markup is a legislative process where the congressional committee debates, offers amendments and rewrites the proposed legislation. If the bill is passed out of mark-up, it is then sent to the floor for the full chamber’s approval pending on if there is time in the legislative calendar or if the leadership agrees.

What committees tend to deal with housing and community development issues?
The House Financial Services Committee and the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee handle the issues that our members of NAHRO care most about.  The House and Senate Appropriations Committees also are important because they make the decisions about the annual HUD Budget and resources for key programs of importance to NAHRO members.

What is a sign-on letter?

Sign-on or “Dear Colleague” letters are developed to communicate support for an action, position or piece of legislation, and are signed by one or more members of Congress to show broad based support or opposition for a given position.  To view an example of a sign-on letter, please visit http://www.nahro.org/members/news/2009/waters_signon.pdf.

What is the procedure for fiscal year spending legislation, such as the HUD budget?
The federal government operates on a budget calendar that runs from October 1 through September 30. Each year, Congress authorizes each department, agency, or program to spend a specific amount of money, and the President signs the bill into law. This money may not be spent, however, until it has been appropriated for a given purpose.

Because of this system, Congress is required to pass separate spending bills every year to ensure the operation of government. If Congress fails to pass such a bill, or the President fails to sign it into law, non-essential functions of the government will cease, as they are no longer allowed by law to spend money. In order to prevent the interruption of government services, Congress will often pass a continuing resolution. This authorizes government agencies to fund their agencies at the current level until either the resolution expires, or an appropriations bill is passed. A continuing resolution must be passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by the President.

What is a continuing resolution?
A continuing resolution is used by Congress to fund government agencies if a formal appropriations bill has not been signed into law by the end of the Congressional fiscal year. The legislation takes the form of a joint resolution, and provides funding for existing federal programs at current or reduced levels.

What is an omnibus spending bill?
An omnibus spending bill is a bill that sets fiscal year spending levels for various departments of the United States government at once.

Every year, Congress must pass bills that appropriate money for all discretionary government spending. Generally, one bill is passed for each sub-committee of the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations. Ordinarily, each bill is passed separately — one bill for Defense, one for Housing and Transportation, and so on.

When Congress does not or cannot produce separate bills in a timely fashion (by the beginning of the fiscal year on October 1), it will roll many of the separate appropriations bills into one omnibus spending bill. Some of the reasons that Congress might not complete all the separate bills include partisan disagreement, disagreement amongst members of the same political party, and too much work on other bills.

What are earmarks?

An earmark is a provision that specifies approved funding to be used on a particular project, or filing exempt from taxes and mandated fees. Earmarks can either be bound by law, or customarily bound. The funds are used for new projects, programs, and grants as specified in the language of the text. Many legislators insert earmarks to direct money to their home states or districts.   However, recent rules have disallowed the practice of earmarks.

What is a pocket veto?

The president can effectively veto legislation without taking action if congress adjourns during the ten-day process. Normally, the president has ten days to respond to a bill, and no such action results in the bill being passed. But if congress adjourns during this period, the bill dies.

What is the difference between discretionary and mandatory spending?  Which does the HUD budget fall under? 

Discretionary spending fluctuates every year, with 12 annual appropriations bills written by the Appropriations Committee to provide federal spending for the fiscal year. This funding is flexible, as Congress can either increase or decrease spending on any of the programs under the bill, including the HUD Budget. The other portion of federal spending, mandatory spending, is controlled by legislative committees and does not need to be appropriated ever year. Though Congress cannot directly cut funding to programs that receive this spending (such as Medicare and social security), they can alter the eligibility guidelines to reduce the amount of people who will receive those benefits.

 "People's Guide to the Federal Budget." National Prioritieshttp://nationalpriorities.org/resources/federal-budget-101/peoples-guide/

"Pocket Veto." U.S. Senate. http://www.senate.gov/reference/glossary_term/pocket_veto.htm

"Earmarks." Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earmark_(politics)

“Government 101: How a Bill Becomes a Law.” Project Vote Smart: The Voter’s Self-Defense System. http://www.votesmart.org/resource_govt101_02.php

“United States Congressional Committee.” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_congressional_committee

“Continuing Resolution.” Wikipediahttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continuing_resolution