More PPL Member Reflections
In “Reflections From the Legislative Trenches” (June/July 2014), members of SNA’s Public Policy & Legislation (PPL) Committee shared insights about their volunteer experience in shepherding the Association’s advocacy efforts in Washington. Since space restrictions prevented School Nutrition from publishing all their contemplations in its print edition, additional thoughts follow.
What is the number-one misperception that SNA members have about the role of PPL or of SNA’s legislative goals and efforts in general?
Marilyn Moody, Major City District Section Representative: I often get the feeling that they think that we can create change in Congress. That PPL can be the initiators to make the changes occur. They put a lot of expectations on us as a committee to make those changes occur.
Stephanie Taylor, Southeast Region Representative: A misconception that I had prior to getting involved with the committee was the difference between what USDA does and what Congress does. I think that’s really come out in this process with the development of the new meal pattern and some of the new regulations. We’ve run up against [understanding this distinction] even as a committee. I think that’s an important difference to try to have our members understand.
Wendy Weyer, Chair: We’ve learned this last year about the difference between a regulatory and a legislative change. That’s what a lot of this last year has been about—what is the right group to go to for the ask that we’re trying to make?
Taylor: And sometimes some of the [specific and individual] asks that our members have, we really couldn’t do anything with [those at the time they were asked], because it was regulatory versus legislative [action].
Weyer: One misconception over the past years is that PPL isn’t active in developing the Position Paper, and that it’s really been driven by our lobbyist. Having been part of the process the last five years, I can tell you that the entire committee as a whole—every person on the committee—hugely takes a role in how we shape that paper. And I’ve been in plenty of meetings, where we come in with a draft and [when finished], what’s final isn’t anywhere near what was on that original draft. I would want SNA members to understand, especially if they’re thinking about getting involved in that process, the fact that you really have opportunities to have a voice in this process. It’s a process that [works diligently to] make sure we are acting as a voice for all the members. It’s bigger than just our committee.
Dolores Sutterfield, Southwest Region Representative: [When I reach out to members in the Southwest region for their feedback as we work toward preparing the Position Papers], I hound them to death. I take all their responses and rank them as they turn them in. The Southwest region has been really, really good [with sharing their feedback]. [Sometimes, one state’s priorities aren’t reflected at the top, because it] is not the same as everyone else’s.
Taylor: I’ve been getting back good responses from the states. For the most part, [since the introduction of the meal pattern and resulting concerns], a lot of issues within the Southeast tend to be very similar. … very in line with what SNA is hearing, as well. We try to stress with states how important it is [to provide feedback], because SNA does use those responses to help us draft the Position Paper, to help us see what direction to go in for the upcoming year.
Gary Vonck, Industry Representative: [I also hear from industry] the thought that SNA can [control] the [regulatory] process: “Why does SNA allow this to happen?” The thought that as an Association, that we seem to have a vote with USDA about legislation and regulations. I think some people don’t understand the whole process of how laws are created and the regulations are developed. I think there’s a misunderstanding of how much power we have versus how things are done [in Washington]. I think more grassroots education to members on even just on how a bill becomes a law would be valuable.
Doug Davis, Northeast Region Representative: My opinion is that members do not know how the Position Paper is crafted, when it’s made available or how to best tailor it to their own legislators. We try to put the information out in plenty of time, but only a small fraction sees it. I have a staff of 45, most are members, but I would guess only 3-4 of them use the website to get information. There needs to be another way to connect members to our advocacy work.
What do you remember of your earliest passions for legislative advocacy and your first SNA Legislative Action Conference?
Weyer: My eighth-grade field trip to Washington, D.C., was when [I first realized] my passion for government. My first LAC was about six years ago; I remember being very much in awe of the size of the [general session room filled with all the attendees]. I was also very nervous about going to Capitol Hill and going into legislators’ offices and being very respectful of these people who had national [positions] and spending time with them. I also remember I didn’t bring tennis shoes, which was a mistake!
Vonck: When I look back at my first LAC, what struck me the most was the amazing passion in the room. It is the element of our Association and our membership, our channel [that] really rises to the top. It truly impacts those who come for the first time, and it’s very contagious. Your first time going to the Hill, there’s a little bit of apprehension and “what is this all about?”, but very quickly, within your first meeting [with a legislator] you realize that it’s just a conversation—and it’s one that needs to be fact-based, non-partisan and very specific to what our needs are and what our needs are for our kids.
Taylor: I was in awe of the process and how it worked. My first LAC was probably six or seven years ago, and I remembered the same things as Gary and Wendy—I was very nervous to go up to the Hill; you looked at these elected officials as people of a high stature, [but] as I’ve gone to LAC through the years, now I look at the fact that they have a responsibility to us, as voters, and they need to hear our story, as we are the experts in the school nutrition arena. Unless we let them know what is going on at the local level, they don’t know. They are responsible for the laws and regulations that affect us, and if we don’t share our story with them, they really don’t have a true sense of what we do.