A new NRECA toolkit offers tips for electric cooperatives on the best ways to lobby members of Congress about key legislation, including bills to help co-ops survive the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Cooperative Congressional Engagement Toolkit has an evolving section on current legislation as well as evergreen tips on how to arrange and conduct meetings with lawmakers.

The toolkit currently offers talking points and fact sheets on a bipartisan bill that would save co-ops more than $10 billion in interest payments on their federal debt and provide financial relief during the pandemic. NRECA is pushing Congress to pass the Flexible Financing for Rural America Act as part of any broad coronavirus aid package it approves next.

It’s crucial for co-ops to weigh in on the bill with their local members of Congress, said Shelby Hartley, NRECA’s manager of advocacy communications.

“Our government relations team has done a great job identifying issues that cooperatives are facing and coming up with steps that Congress can take to help support rural America,” she said. “While NRECA is working to get these fixes included in COVID-19 relief packages, members of Congress really need to hear from the cooperatives in their districts.

“Localizing an issue and illustrating to policymakers how their districts are being affected can send a much stronger message to Congress. Members of Congress work for the people in their districts; they want to hear their stories.”

The toolkit was created “to facilitate these important conversations with policymakers,” said Hartley, who put it together along with NRECA lobbyist Bobby Hamill and Leann Paradise, NRECA’s senior associate for grassroots advocacy.

With COVID restrictions limiting the ability of co-op leaders to meet face-to-face with members of Congress, the toolkit offers tips on how to set up virtual meetings as well as traditional in-person sessions.

“COVID-19 has changed how we communicate with each other, as well as how we communicate with our policymakers,” Hartley said. “We created the toolkit materials to be used during the pandemic, but they are also able to be applied to situations in the future where members of Congress are taking in-person meetings and visiting cooperatives.”

Rebecca Eichelberger, legislative coordinator for the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives, said the association and its co-op members used virtual meetings to help convince Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., to be a lead sponsor of the RUS repricing bill.

Lawmakers typically have only about 30 minutes for a virtual meeting, so it’s important to be well-organized, Eichelberger said. The statewide association gathers questions from its co-op members in advance of the meeting and shares them with congressional staffers so that lawmakers will be prepared to address key concerns.

The Missouri association asks congressional aides to take a photo of the senator or representative during the virtual meeting and then shares those photos on social media to thank the lawmaker for the session, Eichelberger said during a recorded online meeting Thursday to unveil the toolkit to co-ops.

“Members of Congress are interested in what our challenges have been and what the long-term effects of the pandemic could be,” she said. “They want to know how the legislation they’ve passed is helping.”