The 2020 SWE Capitol Hill Days came at the crux of a monumental and salient time for America and Congress. Attendees braved airports and public spaces while government and corporate officials were still trying to make sense of travel policies amid the early days of the COVID-19 Outbreak in the U.S. Many offices remained open but as staffers called out sick and Capitol Police worked to implement new security measures to keep people safe, confusion ran throughout the day. New Capitol Hill Day attendees handled the pressure gracefully, as meetings rapidly switched to conference calls and drop-ins led to unexpected face-time with both Members and senior staff from the House and Senate.
On March 11, SWE held Capitol Hill Days training at a new location, the Willard Intercontinental, a historic hotel next to the Department of the Treasury. SWE members received training on how to advocate and heard from Republican and Democrat staff from the House Science Committee leadership. As usual, Bose Public Affairs was on hand to help explain the advocacy situation in D.C. and answer questions as things rapidly changed due to the Corona outbreak. SWE President Cindy Hoover and SWE Executive Director & CEO Karen Horting kicked off the reception held in the House Rayburn Building. There, several members of Congress came and spoke to SWE members including Science Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Representative Bruce Westerman (R-AR), Darin LaHood (R-IL), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), and Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA). The members offered remarks and stuck around for pictures and to chat with members, gestures probably taken less for granted these days.
The light mood from the reception led to a stark contrast the next morning. However, despite the concerning news and confusion, new members, like those from the University of Missouri, charged ahead and took advantage of meetings still scheduled with Congressional staff. SWE advocates changed flights and managed work disruption to discuss issues important to SWE and its members, including policies to grow efforts similar to SWE’s STEM Re-entry program.
Moving forward, Congress has passed the largest supplemental relief bill in U.S. History. While the regular appropriations schedule is being delayed, the supplemental relief bills provided significant funding for K-12 and higher education, such as the $30 billion Education Stabilization Fund. Some of that money can be used to support any authorized program under Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), including Title IV-A programs that support STEM education which now may be implemented via distance education tools. The bill also included significant funding to support American workers experiencing cuts and layoffs as the economy staggers. Congressional staff is working from home as the Capitol Complex is closed to visitors, but they are still working to put together a fourth relief bill despite the House and Senate being in “recess” until at least April 20. For those of you who made the trip, when we get past this crisis, you’ll be able to say you were one of the last people to visit Congress before life on and off the Hill as we know it changed.
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