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Being Heard: When and How to Write Letters to your Congressperson

We've all heard the phrase, "I'm going to write a letter to my congressperson" at least once in our lives, right? We rarely, if ever think of this as an option, however. Is it really an option? Who is our representative? Will anything get accomplished by doing this? The answer to all of these questions are, "it depends". Depending on the political interests of your representative at the time, and whether they're democratic or republican, their assistance may or may not assist in your case. However, we will discuss in more detail today about when it is helpful to actually reach out to your representative, and what some typical services they offer are.

Congress currently has 435 representatives. Make sure you identify the right congressperson.

You'll first want to figure out what your voting district is for your state, which you can then use to easily identify your representative if you do not already know this. To protect my anonymity, I will not explicitly provide this information in this post. I will, however provide some examples that we can use to follow along with today's discussion.

After identifying your representative, you will want to go to their website, and confirm whether their interests align with the issues you have with your employer. Many representative websites will have a section called "Issues". Skim through all of these and identify whether your equal employment opportunity (EEO) or occupational safety and health (OSH) are a priority for your representative. However, if this is not the case, it may still be possible to take advantage of their services, especially if have any pending complaints or investigations with federal and/or state agencies, which seem to be taking an unnecessarily long period of time. Representatives can use special privileges to expedite this processes, or at the very least, try to. This is the perfect example of when to write a letter to your congressperson.

How do you write a letter to the congressperson? I will assume that most people that are reading this blog have some general experience writing letters, however, I will add that there are some additional things you have to add to your letter which are not typically included in an ordinary letter. This is particularly the case in the header. You will want to include your information first, which should include:

  1. Your full name

  2. Position/title

  3. Your address

  4. Your e-mail address

  5. Your phone/cellphone number

Immediately after you include your own personal header content, you will want to address your congressperson in the appropriate manner. All dignitaries, including representatives are preceded with the title "The Honorable", followed by their full name. Their header content should include the following:

  1. The Honorable [Representative's Name]

  2. Office Address (if they have multiple offices, make sure you specify which office you're addressing the letter to)

Since you likely don't have your representative's e-mail address or phone number, you will not need to include this information in their header.

You can then start with a typical salutation such as Dear Representative [Representative's Name]. Briefly introduce yourself in the first paragraph, especially if this is the first time writing to them, and explain why you are writing to them. You will want to keep the letter brief (ideally less than one page), so be careful about not going on tangents. You can include information such as whether you identify as disabled, a veteran, if you're married, and if you have children. Make yourself stand out as a human being, so that it will keep your representative engaged with handling your request. Be something more than a number. However, you will want to also stay focused.

Clearly state your problem in the next paragraph. Be as succinct as possible, without going into too many details. This isn't like writing a written statement to the OFCCP or EEOC. You're just making the representative aware you have an issue and that you need their help.

In what should be your final paragraph, explain why you think your representative can assist you with this issue. If you need their help expediting a complaint or other request, state this. If you need a recommendation, or find something on their issues page which aligns with your personal issues with the company, make sure you mention this at this point in the letter. You can then close the letter with the typical, "Sincerely Yours", or however you want to close. If there is enough room left over, make sure to include a signature and a date block so that you can print out the letter and sign it, thus authenticating it.

You can fill out the envelope the same way you filled out the Representative's information in the header. Of course, you should include your name and return address in the upper-left corner. When you are finished putting everything together, DO NOT JUST PUT A STAMP ON AND THROW IT IN THE MAILBOX. This is official correspondence, and you want to make sure it's delivered to the right people! Go to the post office, and ask for certified mail, so you can obtain a tracking number, which you can then put into your phone's USPS app. This will allow you to check on the status of the letter, and will inform you of any delivery problems or delays that occur for whatever reason. It is also a way to verify/prove that you actually did send a letter to your representative, and that they should have received it.

I will now close with the following caveat. Even though you addressed this letter to your congressperson, it is likely that it's going to end up being handled by one of their aides. This is fine! Even if an aide is working on their case, the congressperson will give them the authorization they need to move forward with the next step, should it come to that. Other than that, all you will have to do is wait. Hopefully, you should get a timely response, either in the form of a phone call, or an e-mail (since you have provided these in your letter's header), so if they have any additional questions, you can establish communications through these channels, likely saving you time, effort and money. Writing a letter is the first important step for your representative to be able to assist you though, so don't hesitate to do it. Just make sure you get that tracking number, and be patient. They will eventually respond, as long as you are courteous and professional.

Additionally, if you have enough time, and your handwriting is legible, you may get a quicker response if you handwrite your letter instead, as this is understood as requiring more effort than simply typing something up in MS Word and printing it out. If, however, you are not comfortable with handwriting, just err on the safe side: type, print, and sign. Either way, your efforts will be acknowledged; you did all the necessary research to properly write out a professional, legitimate letter. Additionally, your representative will want to get re-elected, so responding to requests is an act of good faith on their part. They will want to earn any extra brownie points any way they can, as long as you're being polite and not requesting them to do anything either outside of their power or outright illegal.

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