Gaining new champions in Congress for substance use prevention is more important than ever. CADCA’s Capitol Hill Day is a critical part of these efforts and has directly resulted in new Congressional champions for substance use prevention every year. Looking ahead to next week’s National Leadership Forum, CADCA interviewed Jodi Salvo, of the Empower Tusc Coalition, in Tuscarawas County, Ohio, to learn about her coalitions’ experience at last year’s Capitol Hill Day.
Empower Tusc uses CADCA’s annual Capitol Hill Day to get legislators to support prevention efforts in Tuscarawas County as well as nationally. Ms. Salvo became interested in Capitol Hill Day because her coalition, “understands the need to advocate for the work that we do daily in our county to prevent youth substance use and promote healthy living environments.” Ms. Salvo’s coalition recognized elected officials’ knowledge of substance use prevention is limited. Capitol Hill Day is important because it is a launching pad for establishing impactful relationships with legislators.
During Capitol Hill Day last January, Empower Tusc met with Congressman Troy Balderson (R-OH-12th) and Congressman Bill Johnson (R-OH-6th). Congressman Johnson has been a longtime champion of substance use prevention, but it was critical for both Congressmen to get to know the coalition better and to establish new relationships while refreshing old ones. Ms. Salvo used the Capitol Hill Day meeting to speak to the importance of youth in prevention. High school students, Max Metz and Carson Norris, “provided a youth perspective on the issues of substance use” and shared personal stories. Congressman Balderson was so impressed with the youth that he asked them if they would be interested in testifying for one of his committees in the future.
Ms. Salvo and her team also used the Capitol Hill Day meeting to highlight their coalition’s ongoing work. Before Capitol Hill Day, the group did their homework on each Congressman’s priorities and their assigned committees. The group tailored their agenda to align with these priorities, resulting in productive conversations with both Congressmen about youth use of electronic nicotine devices and marijuana, and substance use disorders in youth. They closed the meeting by thanking the Congressmen for their support of the Drug-Free Communities (DFC) Program and CADCA prevention priorities. Another positive outcome – the meeting led Congressman Balderson to join the House version of the DFC letter for the first time.
Ms. Salvo emphasized the importance of following up with both members of Congress after her meetings. Thanking legislators for their time and inviting them to future coalition events is vitally important and provides an opportunity to continue cultivating relationships. As Ms. Salvo explained, “Our elected officials need input from experts in the field…They can only advocate for what they know and understand, so it is imperative that we are a resource and conduit for them.”
Capitol Hill Day is the foundation of CADCA’s advocacy work. Coalitions like Empower Tusc, their leaders and their inspiring youth are critical to educating members of Congress and their staffs about the importance of evidence-based, community-focused substance use prevention efforts. Through these meetings, these community coalitions and many others lay the groundwork to ensure that federal substance use prevention programs are funded at the highest possible level each fiscal year.