Legislative Advocacy


Legislative Advocacy

To be an effective advocate, it is important that you understand the make-up of federal and state legislatures. Your message will be more powerful if it is presented to the person responsible for representing you, and who must answer to you in regular elections.

Bear in mind that most legislators and policy makers are anxious to provide effective solutions, and will value your perspective, especially on any timely issue. NAMI members can receive regular updates about upcoming events requiring immediate action.



Who Are My Representatives?


The legislative arm of government in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, The Pennsylvania General Assembly, consists of two houses. The upper house, the Senate, is comprised of 50 members, each of whom represents a distinct geographic district in the state with an average population of about 250,000. Senators serve four-year terms. The lower house, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, is made up of 203 geographic districts, which include about 60,000 people. Representatives are re-elected every two years. Both houses must act independently to approve a state budget or pass new legislation.

US Congress

At the federal level, the U.S. Congress also consists of two houses. Two different Senators each represent voters across the state. They are re-elected every six years.  Pennsylvania is divided into 18 congressional districts, each represented by a member of the House of Representatives. Representatives face re-election every two years.  So every resident in Pennsylvania is represented by two Senators and one Representative.

To learn the name of your district and find your elected representatives, click here. 

County Government

Many mental health care programs are administered at the county level. Most counties in southwestern Pennsylvania are governed by a board of three county commissioners (five in Indiana County) elected by the voters of their county every four years. The exception is Allegheny County, which is governed by a County Executive elected to a four-year term, and a 15-member County Council, 13 of whom represent distinct districts, with two elected at large, to represent of all the residents of Allegheny County. They are re-elected in staggered four-year terms.

How to Communicate with Elected Officials

Personal Letter

A personal letter or email to an elected representative is a powerful tool in advocating for those affected by mental illness. Follow these tips in writing an effective letter:

  • Type or neatly handwrite your letter. Many people believe that a handwritten letter, because it is obviously not mass-produced, may be given more weight than mailed or emailed correspondence.
  • Identify yourself as a constituent from your representative’s district.
  • Get to the point. Keep your message to a single page.
  • Tell your representative exactly what action you want to see taken. Give a reason why that action is best.
  • Be polite and respectful.
  • Use your own words. You may refer to a template for ideas, but keeping it personal will make your letter more effective.
  • Target and time your letter so that your request arrives near the time of required action. Subscribing to NAMI Action Alerts will help you know the best time to make your voice heard.
  • Follow up with a thank you when your representative takes the action you requested.

Phone Call

You should expect to speak to a staff member, not your representative. This is part of their job and they can be counted on to relay your message to your elected official.

  • Introduce yourself, mention your NAMI affiliation, and identify yourself as a constituent of the district if that is the case.
  • Explain in a few words the purpose of your call.
  • Be specific about the action you want your representative to take.
  • Be polite and respectful at all times.

NAMI Advocacy Took Kit

For a complete guide to effective advocacy, download our powerful NAMI Southwest PA Advocacy Tool Kit, which includes guidance on:

  • Developing your talking points
  • Telling your own story in a powerful way
  • Finding partners
  • Reaching out to elected officials
  • Reaching out to the media

Email Alerts: Calls to Action

Keep yourself informed and help spread the word to others about current legislative activity and private and public policy updates. NAMI Southwestern Pennsylvania will provide you with all the latest news by either email or fax–everything you need and want to know.

If you are a member of NAMI Southwestern Pennsylvania, you will receive Call to Action Alerts automatically.  Others can email their request to info@namiswpa.org. Please include your name and your preferred email address.

Follow this link to NAMI National’s Legislative Action

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