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Time for Advocacy

Time for Advocacy

The National Energy and Utility Affordability Coalition (NEUAC) will sponsor its annual Action Day this week on behalf of Congressional funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP ). Several hundred members and dedicated friends of the D.C. based non-profit will meet with members of Congress or staff on behalf of millions of Americans who need vital utility assistance through the program.

This follows the most successful LIHEAP Action Day ever held last year when the state teams spent all hours of the day and many miles walking the halls of Congress to hundreds of appointments. When the 2021 budget appropriations were passed several weeks later, LIHEAP had dodged several proposals for reduced or redirected funding and in fact gained $25 million over the previous year. NEUAC is planning for an equally successful effort this year, but the world we now live in is a different place and the path to that success requires different strategies.

LIHEAP Action Day 2020 was February 26, and pandemic was still an unfamiliar word for most Americans. The first COVID-19 cases in the United States had been discovered in January, but all had traceable links to infected persons and overseas travel. Although any random cough in public was already attracting some attention, the NEUAC meeting rooms in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol were at capacity with few thinking of distancing or masks. The halls of Congress were also crowded with thousands of other groups in town for their own “Fly-In Day” for whatever issues they wanted to bring to the attention of their Congressional delegations. It’s always an exciting and inspiring atmosphere that helps provide cohesion and motivation for each team. The historic House and Senate office buildings, Supreme Court, and Library of Congress all anchored by the commanding Capitol building only add to the sense of purpose.

However, before February 26 was over, the CDC announced the first verified case of COVID-19 in the U.S. not connected to a known source. The first known death announced two days later began a terrible journey the world has been in an ongoing struggle with throughout 2020 to present day.

One of the first lessons of COVID beyond safety and survival, was an almost overnight acceptance that what had gone before was no longer necessarily practical or even possible. This newfound flexibility could not prevent drastic impacts on many organizations and related jobs, but elsewhere it often facilitated continued operations and events. For instance, in many cases telecommuting went from prohibited or strictly limited to mandatory. Despite electronic glitches and comical intrusions of life at home, meeting platforms quickly became pervasive. NEUAC hosted its first virtual annual conference in June with great success and more than 600 participants registered.

Of course, all aspects of LIHEAP Action Day 2021 will be virtual. While the trappings of Washington, D.C. and the face to face contact with Congressional members or staff can’t be entirely duplicated, everyone from the President on down is now accustomed to the same limitations. State teams may not be able to replicate the same energy and make new acquaintances as effectively as in the physical halls of Congress, but the shared experience of a virtual platform and the challenging reasons for it have their own way of bonding participants.

In any case, there is little doubt those who have committed to work and speak on Action Day for the elderly, children, veterans, the disabled and all those in need of warmth, safety and peace of mind will not be deterred by our new reality. The power of purpose is at the heart of such an effort and will not be diminished.

Michael J. Bradford Director, Project SHARE
The Salvation Army Georgia Division 1000 Center Place
Norcross, GA 30093