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Some tips on communicating with your legislators

We are regularly encouraged to write to our Washington representatives, urging them to support legislation that directly affects us living abroad. When we do, it would be wise to keep a few things in mind.

Here are some tips on writing to your legislators, as well as a few websites for those particularly interested in US issues. 

Communicating with your Elected Officials

Tips On Telephoning Your Elected Representatives
Email is great but it’s very effective to pick up the phone!
If you do call a Congressional office, immediately give your name, say that you are calling from abroad but that you are a voter in X district, and ask for the staffer responsible for … (taxation, foreign relations, voting, etc.). Remember that it is staffers who research and write legislation: never underestimate the staffers!  Ask to speak with the aide who handles the issue about which you wish to comment. Even Congresspersons not on a tax committee, for example, will have someone who is familiar with tax issues.
Don’t feel bad if you get a voicemail box - leave a brief message, such as: "Please tell Senator/Representative (Name) that I support/oppose (S.___/H.R.___)." You will also want to state reasons for your support or opposition to the bill. Ask for your Senator's or Representative's position on the bill.  Clearly give your email address for a response (not phone number – they will not call overseas).

Tips On Writing (or emailing) Congress
The letter is the most popular choice of communication with a congressional office. Never send large brown envelopes, bulk mailing, unessential documents - they can be irradiated and seriously delayed. We are also advised to hand-address envelopes to personalize them!  Emails remain the best way to communicate with your officials (though faxes are fine - they simply receive so many that yours may be overlooked). If you email your Representative or Senator, send a hard copy afterward.  Avoid email attachments – such messages may be blocked.
One of the most helpful things you can do is go to the House & Senate websites and check the composition of certain committees to see if you have a Representative or Senator on:
Senate Appropriations / Finance / Foreign Relations / Judiciary / Rules and Administration / Special Committee on Aging (for example) and House Appropriations / House Administration / International Relations / Judiciary / Ways and Means…and contact the committee staff.  In important cases, take the time to contact every member of the committee.
If you decide to write a letter, remember:
1.    ALWAYS state at the beginning of your letter/email that you are a (your state) voter now living outside the United States, and ALWAYS give your voting address at the end of your letter; if you cannot give an address, at least begin your letter stating that you vote in X district in Y state;
2.    If your letter pertains to a specific piece of legislation, identify it accordingly, e.g., House bill: H. R. ____, Senate bill: S.____ State the purpose of your letter in the first paragraph; address only one issue in each letter and if possible, keep your letter to one page.
3.    Don’t write only to ask for something; remember also to write to say thank you for support; never be negative!
4.    If you borrow from a “standard” letter, personalize it in some way, showing how the issue directly affects you.

Addressing Correspondence:
To a Senator:
The Honorable (full name)
__(Rm.)__(name of) Senate Office Building
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator/ Dear Senator (last name):   

To a Representative:
The Honorable (full name)
__(Rm.)__(name of) House Office Building
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Representative/Dear Congress(wo/man) (last name):

Note: When writing to the Chair of a Committee or the Speaker of the House, it is proper to address them as:
Dear Mr. Chairman or Madam Chairwoman or Dear Mr. Speaker.


DON'T FORGET the local office:

If you are "home for the holidays", why not pay a quick visit to your legislator's (Senate or House) local office - even if you don't want to report/discuss a problem, you help the entire overseas community by simply telling your legislator that you vote in that district though you live overseas: you are a real person with a vote!

Useful Websites @
“THOMAS” (Library of Congress): information on bills, sponsors, status, etc.: thomas.loc.gov
U.S. House of Representatives:    www.house.gov
U.S. Senate:    www.senate.gov

General information   
Congressional Information:    www.congress.org
Democratic National Committee:    www.democrats.org
Federal Voting Assistance Program:    www.fvap.gov
Internal Revenue Service:    www.irs.gov
League of Women Voters :   www.lwv.org
Overseas Vote Foundation :   www.overseasvotefoundation.org
Registration abroad + state department travel/security updates:    travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs
Republican National Committee:    www.rnc.gov
Social Security Administration :    www.ssa.gov

Partner organizations   
AARO (Association of Americans Resident Overseas) :   www.aaro.org
ACA (Americans Citizens Abroad) :   www.aca.ch

OVF (Overseas Vote Foundation):  www.overseasvotefoundation.org

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