Coming Through Committee: a Look into Legislative Advocacy

The importance of committees in the Massachusetts legislative process

Legislators and advocates look on as a hearing is held on a 2019 bill to address the Cliff Effect

With numerous food security related bills on the docket, the advocacy team at The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts has had a busy year ensuring these potentially life-changing measures get the support they need. Equipped with data and the perspectives of those who live most closely to the issue at hand, advocacy is a powerful tool in building an effective bill and getting it passed through the Massachusetts legislature. On February 2nd the state reached a major turning point in its two-year legislative cycle as committees announced their decisions on which bills would move forward and which would be set aside for another term.

In addition to contacting and speaking with committee reps individually, advocates and activists have their major opportunity to argue for the importance of a piece of legislature in committee hearings. Held for every bill, these hearings are an opportunity for the public to have their voices heard.

“While advocates can play a vital role in the passage of legislation,” explains Laura Sylvester, Public Policy Manager at The Food Bank, “nothing has more impact for legislators than hearing from people who are directly affected by the issue at hand. Personal stories of people with lived experience of food insecurity, or whatever is being debated, really bring to life the importance of the legislation.”

A Graphic describing where public hearings fit into the larger legislative process

A graphic displaying how public hearings fit into the early stages of the legislative process.

Advocacy and testimony in the era of Covid

The pandemic has pushed committee hearings from the State House into the virtual realm, which despite the frustrations of online-only communication has greatly expanded accessibility for both those who want to testify and those who want to listen. Accessibility is particularly important for bills addressing underlying causes of food insecurity as they overwhelmingly effect people in service industries – industries that often have unpredictable schedules and no paid time off.

Online Hearing

Christina Royal, President of Holyoke Community College, answers questions from Rep. Mindy Domb in a hearing for the Hunger Free Campus Initiative

“Elected officials are human beings and hearing a heartfelt story from someone who has been adversely impacted by an issue that can be fixed by passing a law can do more to change minds and influence votes than 100 pages of research or data,” says Sylvester.




A look at what is next

As bills such as the legislation to address impacts of the Cliff Effect move on to the next phase of consideration and debate, the advocacy team at The Food Bank is looking ahead to plan their next steps in encouraging the state’s lawmakers to address food insecurity in Massachusetts. And, as Sylvester explains, this can also include you,

“If you’re someone who is passionate about this work and is looking for ways to help make our state a better place, I would encourage you to sign up for our Advocacy Alerts. They will keep you updated on our progress with our priority legislation and always include action steps of how you can help.”

Additionally, The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts is active on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with more general news on the state of food insecurity in the region.