Speaking Up for Themselves: Nonprofit Members Engage Lawmakers for Advocacy Day
By Kerry McGinley
The end of the National Training and Achievement Conference brought the start of a new event for SourceAmerica nonprofit agencies: Advocacy Day.
On April 28, 49 representatives from 24 states loaded up a bus headed to Capitol Hill. There they attended a total of 125 meetings with various legislators to connect with their representatives and bring lawmakers’ attention to critical issues affecting people with disabilities.
For Tobi Mathouser, director of federal contracts for Goodwill Industries, Inc., Serving Eastern Nebraska and Southwest Iowa, the prep session during the national conference gave her a starting point for productive conversations with her representatives for her first trip to Capitol Hill.
“I will say that for me, the talking points (prepared for participants) were great,” Mathouser said. “But you definitely have to put it in your own words because it’s a conversation. That session helped me out a lot. For people who’ve never done it before, it kind of sets you at ease.”
A primary point of discussion was the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. Nonprofit representatives encouraged their legislators to reinforce the intent of the law to the federal agencies that are currently drafting rules that could affect the choices people with significant disabilities have in the workplace. They asked lawmakers to contact Departments of Education and Labor to use the definitions already established by Congress (versus those proposed in the draft rule) and to recognize job placements in the AbilityOne Program as an acceptable employment outcome under WIOA.
“The draft of the rules currently being considered could severely limit job opportunities for people with significant disabilities,” said Shari Walton, senior manager of Government Affairs and Grassroots Advocacy.
Making contact in person on the Hill is an effective way to strengthen relationships with legislators, Walton said.
“When members of our nonprofit network and their employees are face-to-face with their legislators, it has tremendous impact,” Walton said. “It reminds them that there are people whose lives are changed by the legislation they pass. It reminds them of the importance and impact of their work.”
Nonprofit members also asked their lawmakers to request a goal of 1 percent be established by Department of Defense for awarding AbilityOne Program contracts. Currently, DOD is the program’s largest customer that creates jobs for about 30,000 people with disabilities, which is .07 percent of the department’s contracting budget. That 1 percent goal would create thousands of jobs for people with disabilities, Walton said. By comparison, DOD is required by law to have a contracting goal for small businesses, which is currently set at 21 percent and is being exceeded, she said.
Most offices expressed support for the DOD goal, Walton said, and 20 offices committed to sending letters to the Department of Education addressing WIOA concerns.
Advocacy Day laid the foundation for SourceAmerica’s upcoming annual Grassroots Conference. Leaders from nonprofit agencies, self-advocates and family members will learn how to effectively advocate their positions on policy issues affecting them June 13-16.