Mar 2, 2015, 11:56 AM by

Mr. Chris Goes to Washington

Last week, I returned from a three-day trip to Washington DC. I was there for the YMCA's National Advocacy Days. The national YMCA office has several staff members who work in DC, follow bills and laws and let local Ys know if there are any proposals that could affect our ability to do our mission work. Then, once a year, each state sends a representative to meet with their senators and congressional representatives.

We spent the first day learning about what is on the national agenda and what we should expect. We were given a booklet that showed a round up of the work being done by Ys across the US and how we are having a positive effect on the country. I had brought along something similar to show the work that Ys do in Colorado. In this state, we have six YMCA associations: Boulder, Denver, Longmont, Pueblo, Colorado Springs and the Rockies. The goal is to show our elected officials how much influence Ys have in this country and that we are here to serve the community and help when needed. We have three national priorities this year, and my job during the trip was to educate Colorado's officials about these priorities and illustrate how they are good for the Y and, ergo, good for the country.

The first priority was to encourage votes and/or co-sponsors for the National Child Protection Act. This one is near and dear to my heart. Basically, it ensures that the background checks we submit to the FBI database are returned in a very short period of time, and it gives small childcare agencies access to the FBI. Currently, our YMCA takes fingerprints of newly hired employees for specific childcare programs and sends them to be run through the FBI database. It takes a ridiculous eight to nine weeks to get them back. Because of this, we have to do private checks as well… because the summer would be over if we waited to hear back from the government to see if someone was OK to hire. This bill is budget neutral and does nothing more than give access and ensure performance by the FBI for the services that are already being paid for by the agency requesting the background check.

The second bill on our priority list is the Medicare Diabetes Prevention Act. This enhances the Diabetes Prevention Act that was passed last year and sponsored by Sen. Al Franken. It allows Medicare to pay for the YMCA and CDC Diabetes Prevention Program, and it'd save over $110,000,000 in the federal budget. This bill is budget positive.

The third item is not a bill, but a request. We all know there will be tax reform at some point, and we want the YMCA—as the largest nonprofit in the United States—to be at the table when this occurs.

To meet with our representatives, we call their offices, let them know we will be in town and request a meeting. Sometimes the actual representative will be there, and sometimes they are busy so we meet with their staff. This is fine because their staff does the research and then gives advice to the elected official. For example, we had an appointment with Sen. Michael Bennett, but he was at the White House because President Obama was signing the documents to make a new national monument in Colorado. That, in my opinion, is an excused absence. Sen. Cory Gardner spent time with us and was very supportive of the two bills. We have found that YMCA issues are of interest to all parties. Who can't agree with our mission, right? Then I met with Rep. Ed Perlmutter, who actually works out at the Y in Denver and said he supported our position on the Child Protection Act. The same thing was said by the staffs for Rep. Jared Polis, Rep. Scott Tipton, Rep. Doug Lamborn and Rep. Mike Coffman. So two thumbs up for all of them.

[Tweet ""Who can't agree with our mission, right?""]

On the other hand, Rep. Ken Buck's staff told us that the congressman only meets with people who live in his district, so we did not have an opportunity to talk with him about these issues. The Longmont Y is located in Buck's district and the Denver Y has programs within his district; we know some of his constituents are Y members and program participants. As the representative for Colorado YMCAs during National Advocacy Days, I'm disappointed with Buck's office for not taking the time to connect with us about legislation that impacts their constituents' health and wellbeing. I certainly hope that next time he is able to sit down with us and chat.

What I have learned from doing this for the past four years is that all of our representatives are approachable (well, almost all) and reasonable when it comes to issues that affect the YMCA. Loving kids and caring about people's health and education are not issues that should be constrained by political or ideological boundaries.

We are still in turbulent political times, but you can actually pick up the phone and let your representatives know your thoughts. If an issue is important to you, take a few minutes to meet your representative's staff members at their local office.

Several years ago, I was in DC, and there was a lot of talk about the Affordable Care Act. There was also cable TV regulation going on. The cable issue would have cost the Y about $100, the Affordable Care Act will cost the Y up to $170,000 this year. The interesting thing is the calls coming into the congressman’s office were 10 to 1 in lobbying for the cable bill! My point is that we need to do three things right now:

  • Know who your reps are and have their contact information.

  • Begin to teach your kids that their voices count, but it only counts when they speak up for what they believe in.

  • Vote each and every time there is an election, and spend time educating yourself before you cast that vote.

Personally, I don’t care what party with which you associate. We all have different beliefs; that is the beauty of America. But I do care if someone complains without doing anything about it. Also, if we have learned anything in the past several decades, it's that congressional and senatorial elections can influence passing legislation more than the presidential election.


Thank You,  
Chris Coker  
CEO/President of YMCA of Boulder Valley