253 to 0

If you’re a follower of civic campaigns, you would be forgiven for thinking that a bill that receives unanimous support in both chambers of a legislature must be a simple matter.  A no-brainer public policy change.  A slam dunk.

Don’t be fooled.

Denny Civic Solutions just helped their client, the Campaign for What Works, achieve a second victory in less than two weeks.  Just last month, the C4WW celebrated the culmination of an effort it had been championing for years –  a broad, coalition-backed campaign to change the name of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare to the Department of Human Services – stripping away in the process a terrible stigma attached to everyday Pennsylvanians in need of services.

Which brings us to yesterday, when the Campaign for What Works achieved another huge legislative win with the passage of HB 2204 by the Pennsylvania Senate.  HB 2204 guarantees that all 6,000 homeless infants in Pennsylvania automatically qualify for early intervention services.  The Senate vote was 50 – 0, replicating an earlier 203 – 0 House vote.

Again, you’d be forgiven for wondering who could possibly be against homeless infants, or for thinking that such a common-sense course of action could have been cleared up with a simple phone call.  And again, you’d be surprised.  Here is our list of five reasons why even a simple issue like helping homeless infants requires a full-blown civic campaign.

1.         Nothing is easy in today’s political environment

Getting any legislation through our current hyperpolarized political gridlock is extremely difficult.  Even when faced with an obvious crisis like default, or transportation funding, or a growing pension crisis, legislatures are still hesitant to act.

2.         Even your natural allies may need a little coaxing

This was certainly the case with HB 2204.  While everyone supported the concept of providing homeless infants with early intervention services, many coalition groups already providing these services to other groups of children were concerned with HB 2204 – and rightly so.  They were worried that by opening up the issue and increasing the number families served, it might result in a loss of funding and much-needed support for their constituents.  This is the all-too-common double edged sword of legislation, and to ensure full support from the coalition, the Campaign for What Works promised its partners to stop the bill if collateral damage were to affect any member of the coalition.

3.         It wasn’t on anyone’s radar screen

Recently, weighty issues like pension reform, transportation funding, and liquor privatization were taking up all of the political oxygen. Neither political leaders nor decision makers – let alone coalition groups – were thinking about homeless infants.  The Campaign for What Works had to develop the issue, provide a solution, and bring the crisis to the forefront in order to get legislators to act quickly.

4.         It is an election year

An election year seems like an ideal time to pass legislation helping the most vulnerable. Yet this is only half right.  This is an issue that can give voters a favorable impression of a sympathetic lawmaker, but with the caveat that many politicians won’t risk pushing through any legislation so close to Election Day.  Sometimes, they feel that in all cases the status quo is the best path to reelection.

5.         Issues like this need a broader, more diverse coalition

Everyone expects homeless advocacy groups to support legislation to help homeless infants.  But to really move an issue that is on no one’s to-do list, it’s important to broaden and diversify your coalition. The Campaign for What Works did just that.  In addition to many incredible homeless advocates, the Campaign recruited and benefited from the active leadership of medical groups like the Academy of Pediatrics, and the Pennsylvania Medical Society.  And when the Pennsylvania School Board Association got engaged, people really took notice.  PSBA’s argument was simple, forceful, and clear – help these infants now so they are ready for school later.

So remember, even an issue that wins by a landslide only gets there with the help of a full-blown civic campaign – and Denny Civic Solutions couldn’t be more proud to have helped push this one across the finish line.

For more on HB 2204 and how it helps kids, check out the C4WW’s press release here.