Take Action

Make your voice heard. Let legislators and media outlets know what Social Security means to your family’s well being. Let them know Social Security is a fiscally solvent and sustainable program.  By telling your family story, show them that it provides vital support in maintaining the fabric of American families’ economic well being during the course of life events, such as retirement, as well as during unforeseen circumstances, such as the early death of a spouse or the permanent disability of a sibling.

There are three important things to remember when advocating for Social Security: 1) target the right policy maker, 2) target the right program and 3) connect your story to the purpose of the program you are supporting.

In addition to speaking with legislators, you can write a Letter to the Editor.   

#1) Target the right policy maker

Decisions about various public issues are made at all different levels of government.

First, figure out if your issue is one that is decided on the federal, state or local level.  This can get confusing, but is pretty simple with the issue of Social Security.  Those decisions are made on the federal level.

Second, you have to figure out where you issue is decided within the federal level.  For example, Congress and the President decided long ago a formula for how much Social Security Disability Insurance benefits a person will receive once found eligible for benefits.  There would be no use in advocating at the local Social Security office or with your Regional Social Security Commissioner for an increase in Social Security check amounts.  You would have to address that issue with your local Congressperson or the President.  On the other hand, the Social Security Administration does have a lot of leeway in determining, for example, what symptoms a person diagnosed with MS would need to exhibit to be considered disabled.  When they review these diagnosis criteria, they seek public input through comments in their rulemaking process and if you had an opinion on this, you would want to tell them.

For purposes of assuring Social Security remains in place and true to its purpose, you are going to want to target your advocacy to Congress and the President.

This does not mean you cannot talk to state or local representatives about a federal issue like Social Security.Often, state and local officials do try to influence the federal debate through proclamations and other means.  And, these officials do talk to their Congressional representatives too.  Just make sure you let them know that you understand that they are in the same position as you…they can try to influence what happens on the federal level but are not responsible for it.

#2) Target the right program

Different public benefits programs work together to provide stability and support to individuals and families.  It can sometimes get confusing to keep straight which program is doing what.  When you are trying to tell the story of the importance of one program, though, you have to make sure you focus on how that particular program is helping.

For example, if you are advocating for the important of your brother’s Social Security benefits, it does not make your point to say, “We could never afford to pay for his personal attendant care” if Medicaid is paying for that personal attendant care.   Instead, that is a strong argument for Medicaid and its continuing coverage of that service.  But it doesn’t have much to do with Social Security.   Focus on what the benefit you are advocating about covers.  For Social Security, it is more likely to be something like rent, food, car to get to medical appointments, heat, medical co-payments etc.

#3) Connect your story to the purpose of the program you are supporting

It is important to remind the decision makers why the various Social Security programs came into being to begin with.  And, the most powerful technique for doing this is through your own story.  For example, the purpose of Social Security Insurance payments for the surviving child is to replace income that would have otherwise been provided by the worker had he or she still been alive.  If your grandson is getting such a payment, you tell your story like this:

“Of course we never in a million years thought that we would outlive our son.  It is a nightmare.  And he did such a good job of taking care of our grandson, Louis.  Louis’s mom is doing her best to support Louis now.   It is so difficult without our son to help.  But the Social Security check helps.  And we need to keep this in place…because nobody ever expects or plans for something like this to happen.  We don’t know where the family would be without that help.”

Here are some tips on two effective ways to take action, talking to legislators and writing a letter to the editor:


Six simple tips to talk to legislators

  1. Politicians want to hear from their own constituents.  Find your Congressperson at http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/ and Senators at www.senate.gov.
  2. Decide on your mode of communication: letter writing, email, social media, phone call, in-person visit to local office.
  3. Personal is better.  Form letters or emails are not as effective.   Tell your own story!
  4. Sometimes we think we must have all the answers when we talk to our representatives, like how something is going to be paid for.  We don’t.  Our job as constituents is to tell them what is important to us.  It is their job to take that into account and prioritize what our government will do.  There is always money for SOMETHING.  Lobbyists and all sorts of interest groups are telling them what they want to be done with that SOMETHING.  You should too!
  5. Be short, concise and to the point.  Your representatives want to hear from you, but they also have to hear from others too! See our Storytelling tips to prepare.
  6. Share, share, share.  Tell others what you said through formal and informal networks, from Twitter to the watercooler.


Tips on writing a letter to the editor

One effective way to “change the conversation” around Social Security is by writing a letter to the editor.  Letters to the Editor are usually printed when they are connected to a recent article and bring a new or different perspective to it.  Here are some tips:

  1. Do it immediately.  Don’t wait too long after the article is published to send it in.
  2. Reference the related article in the letter at the beginning of the letter.  “Regarding your recent article, Saving Social Security (Dec. 4, 2012).
  3. Stick to the word limit for letters.  Even if the editor thinks your letter is brilliant, they won’t have the room to print it.
  4. You can write a letter to the editor about an article that agrees or disagrees with what was said.  You just need to have an interesting reason or story as to why.
  5. Don’t be discouraged if it takes a while before a letter is actually printed.  Newspapers receive hundreds of letters, and it is not easy to be chosen.
  6. Don’t forget about your local and smaller newspapers and magazines.  They may be more likely to print your letter and it can be just as effective in contributing to better conversations around Social Security.
  7. You can also publish your letter in the online “comments” section, or on other blogs (“An open letter to the editor of…”)
  8. Use social media platforms to share your message.