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Lobbying in Los Angeles for Foreign Aid Reform

USAID delivery Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/chucksimmins/ / CC BY 2.0

By Cameron Shaw, Bread for the World Organizing Intern

On Monday, I went on my first lobby visit as part of my internship with Bread for the World. The purpose was to convince Senator Dianne Feinstein to co sponsor S. 1524, the Foreign Assistance Reform and Revitalization Act. Two Bread staff members (Holly and Sonia), 5 community leaders (Wanda, Jane, Wayne, Vickie and Connie) and I met with one of her staff for about forty-five minutes to discuss the bill. This was an urgent meeting, because the bill was due to be marked up the next day. A markup is when the committee gets together to analyze a bill and make changes.

We set the stage by telling personal stories. Wanda recounted how aid had lifted her family out of poverty during the Depression. Thanks to the aid, they went from barely subsisting on beans to eating balanced meals. I discussed my experiences during my semester abroad in Senegal.  I pointed out that very little money can have a huge impact on the lives of the poor. Jane told us about her friend who had been badly injured in a bombing on the UN. She argued that having opportunities and basic necessities will reduce violence.  Wayne, a Lutheran preacher, shared his experiences aiding displaced Colombian women and children. According to him, aid is most effective when it is targeted at women.

Next we told her staff about the bill - S. 1524. Jane, a member of the South Coast Interfaith Council, facilitated the meeting.  She highlighted the good points of the bill. The bill updates our foreign aid laws, encouraging establishing some new agencies, strengthening old ones, and demanding that foreign aid information be made public. It establishes a Council on Research and Evaluation of Foreign Assistance (CORE), whose function is to evaluate US foreign aid. Additionally, USAID does not have enough staff or resources to do their job adequately. Thus, this bill creates a Bureau for Policy and Strategic Planning within USAID that focuses on U.S. development policy and researches the effectiveness of development aid. Most importantly, it increases transparency by requiring the President to make all information on US foreign assistance public.

Finally, we pressed the staff about why the Senator had not yet cosponsored such a non- controversial piece of legislation. The staff member told us that she was waiting for the markup. We later found out that the bill’s markup had been postponed for a week. To wrap the meeting up, we gave the senator's office 7 hand written letters from Sonia, her students, and me.

If I took anything away from the meeting, it was importance of organization. Having a designated facilitator really helped push the meeting forward. The twenty minutes before the meeting in which we asked each other “what part of the bill is most important to you? What part do you want to discuss?”  were essential. Each person spoke about his or her passion rather than just another segment.

Cameron Shaw is a senior at Pomona College.  She is interning this fall with Bread for the World's Pasadena Regional Office.

 

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