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I May Not Have Seen Any Cherry Blossoms, But...

by Jennifer Gray

Last week, I had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. wearing my Director of Advocacy for the Maine Philanthropy Center hat. Unfortunately, the weather was cold and windy and there were no cherry blossoms. However, the trip was excellent. I attended outstanding programs offered by the United Philanthropy Forum at the PolicyWorks and Foundations on the Hill events, got to know my traveling companions, and had very productive meetings with Maine’s congressional delegation and their staff.

PolicyWorks Highlights

PolicyWorks focused a significant portion of their programming on diversity and inclusion. While, gratefully, there’s been a lot of focus on these topics lately, to participate in these programs with many people of color was even more impactful. I congratulate the United Philanthropy Forum for its significant growth over the past year and for bringing so many people of color to the table. Candice C. Jones, President and CEO of Public Welfare Foundation (spoke to juvenile justice and advocacy), and Susan Taylor Batten, President and CEO of ABFE (elevated the issue of the role of public policy in fueling the racial divide) were both outstanding speakers and inspiring.

A highlight of the week was hearing from Norah Shapiro, director of the documentary Time for Ilhan, and seeing clips of her film. The film is a documentary that follows the 2016 Minneapolis race for State Representative in a district that is home to the nation’s largest Somali population. Ilhan Omar is the first Somali-American, Muslim legislator elected to political office in the United States.


The census was also a focus of attention. As a critical source of data, the census is tremendously important. It’s already estimated that far fewer will complete the census in 2020 without a significant effort. This will mark the first time that the census is computer-based, relying on the internet first. At the same time, the financial investment in the census is shrinking. In addition to congressional representation relying on census results, some funding formulas are also census-based. An under-counted population can cost the state dearly in terms of dollars. For example, these federal programs use census data in determining state funding allocations: Head Start, food stamps, special education, free and reduced lunch programs, WIC, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The Michigan Nonprofit Association has made the census a top priority. Here’s more information about this important issue on their website.

Visit with Allison Behuniak, Congressman Poliquin’s Legislative Aide

Delegation Visits

Our Maine delegation included John Shoos (Sam L. Cohen, Executive Director and Maine Philanthropy Center Board Chair), Ruta Kadonoff (Senior Program Office, Maine Health Access Foundation), Cherie Galyean (Director, Education Initiatives, Maine Community Foundation), and myself. We visited all four of our delegation offices. We were able to join Senators Susan Collins and Angus King and their staff for coffee and we met with staff representatives from Congresswoman Pingree and Congressman Poliquin’s offices.

Johnson Amendment

In addition to introducing ourselves, we were also focused on highlighting the need to protect the Johnson Amendment. Our visit was very timely given that the Omnibus Spending Bill of 2018 negotiations were happening during our visit. We are hopeful that our delegation is with us and that they will oppose efforts to weaken and repeal this critical piece of federal tax policy. Nonprofits need to continue to be nonpartisan. We know that this issue was one of the outstanding controversial issues being discussed during the final days of the bill negotiations. The bill is expected to be out tonight or tomorrow with voting this week.

Children on the Hill

Last week also happened to be a time of action regarding our children and the need to protect them from gun violence, action on which I think all agree is needed. As a lifetime advocate, I found it personally moving to see Washington, D.C.’s youth standing up for their beliefs and taking action. It was also incredibly powerful, and sad, to see the 7,000 shoes on the Capitol lawn representing all of the children’s lives lost due to gun shot wounds since Sandy Hook in 2012.

While I did not see any cherry blossoms, my trip to Washington, D.C. was rewarding in many ways. I look forward to building on the connections that I made and continuing to share what I’ve learned moving forward. Hopefully, we’ll start to see signs of spring here in Maine before too long.

One thought on “I May Not Have Seen Any Cherry Blossoms, But…

Nancy Harrison says:

Thanks for all you do.

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