On May 10, 2016, four representatives from Utah Infertility Resource Center traveled to Washington, DC, to participate in RESOLVE's annual Advocacy Day. We learned more about the way government works, how to present the issues we're passionate about, and the importance of advocacy, and we want to keep this ball rolling, so let's talk about Advocacy Day and what it means.
What is Advocacy Day? Advocacy Day is an event hosted by RESOLVE where the infertility community comes together in Washington D.C. to talk to Members of Congress about important issues, like increased access to family building options and financial relief. This year there were over 200 advocates from 27 states in attendance.
Why Did UIRC Attend? As the only nonprofit in Utah dedicated to addressing the mental, emotional, and social aspects of infertility, we felt that it was important for us to be there in person speak with our nation’s leaders on behalf of those in our state facing the challenges of infertility.
Who went? With the help of our generous sponsors, we were able to send a total of four representatives from UIRC: Camille Hawkins, Executive Director; Brooke Walrath, Director of Education; Seth Finlinson, Board of Directors; and Sara Nichols, Board of Directors.
We also had a volunteer attend with us. Next year, we will be looking for additional volunteers who would like to join UIRC to attend advocacy day.
What did you do at Advocacy Day? We flew into D.C. on a Tuesday afternoon and quickly found our hotel to change and get ready for the welcome reception. We walked to the Senate Building where we met other advocates from around the country. Resolve then presented Hero Awards to two veterans who had been injured in the war and are now suffering from infertility due to their injuries, and recognized another who had received the Hero Award recently at another RESOLVE event.
The morning of Advocacy Day we headed over to the National Press Club to attend the morning training. Here we got our appointment schedules for the day and heard from some inspirational speakers including Representative Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) who lost both her legs serving in Iraq as a Blackhawk helicoptor pilot.
We then took a taxi to our first appointment. Our schedule was full with meetings between the Senate and House buildings. We walked back and forth through security each time underneath the capital building through the tunnels to make our different appointments. Who did you meet with? There are six legislators in Washington, DC, from Utah. Throughout the day, we met with staffers from the offices of Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee and Representatives Chris Stewart, Mia Love, and Rob Bishop. At the end of our meeting with Rep. Stewart's staffer, we were able to chat for a moment with the Representative himself and learned that infertility has affected his family.
As we did not have anyone who lives in Representative Jason Chaffetz's district with us, we were unable to schedule a meeting with him, but we were able to deliver letters from his constituents directly to his office and have an impromptu chat with his staff.
We were also able to meet Mike Lee in person a little later in the day for his weekly "Jell-O" open house. His office actually makes green Jell-O and you can come eat some and talk to the Senator.
Was it even effective if you only met with staffers? Each legislator has a number of staffers who divide up tasks of researching, running the office, and taking meetings with constituents and others. They are a part of the legislative process, and they counsel the legislator on what to vote for or against and why. Of course, the final decisions are always with the Senators and Representatives, but they rely on their staffers to give them the information they need to make the call.
What did you talk to them about? We had three specific issues to address with each office we visited: First was infertility treatment coverage for veterans. With advancement in reproductive technology, many families are having success with treatments, but there is still zero infertility coverage for veterans--even if they have come home with injuries that are causing them to be infertile. The VA covers every medical aspect related to combat injuries except for infertility, in many cases effectively crushing veterans' dreams of having a family. We asked each office to support a handful of bills that will aid Veterans trying to start families, the biggest and most effective of which is the Women Veterans and Families Health Services Act (S469/HR3365).
Second, we talked about Adoption Tax Credit Refundability. The Adoption Tax Credit has been around in some form or another for a long time, and was made permanent a couple of years ago.Thing is, as a credit, it only benefits families who owe a lot in taxes--generally more wealthy families. Families in lower tax brackets only really benefit from a credit like this if it is refundable, and it was in 2010 and 2011. We asked them to support making the tax credit permanently refundable.
Finally, we asked the offices to support and work towards implementing the CDC's National Action Plan for Infertility. This plan was created in 2014 but will require a lot of effort to start educating the public, and our legislators in DC can have a lot of influence over what we talk about on the national level.
What were the outcomes? Leaving Capitol Hill that day, our feet were tired but we were excited. Our meetings had gone well and we felt heard. We don't know all of the effects our meetings will have on the people we spoke to, but just a week after we were there, Senator Hatch voted "Yea" with 88 other Senators to pass HR 2577--a bill which carries an amendment that will fund IVF for veterans for two years. This is one of the smaller things we advocated for, but we celebrated this small victory alongside RESOLVE last Thursday.
We were able to meet and interact with a number of other infertility advocates from across the nation at the receptions and training held by RESOLVE. It felt incredible to sit in a packed room at the National Press Club and look around at more than 200 people who were excited and motivated to talk about infertility. Usually, infertility is an isolating disease. It makes you feel like no one else could ever understand what you're going through. It's awfully hard to feel alone in a room of 200+ people who care just as much about infertility as you do.
Last but not least, we all left with a better understanding of the legislative process at the federal level, and we are excited to start working here in Utah on changes to improve legislation that affects those of us with infertility here in the state.
What can I do to get involved? If you're interested in advocacy at the federal level, join us next May in Washington, DC. We had a great experience and we can't wait to do it again next year.
If you're interested in advocacy here in Utah, we are forming an advocacy committee. Contact Brooke Walrath at firstname.lastname@example.org to join, and help us create a plan for better infertility conditions and coverage at the state level.