Your guide to congressional recesses

It’s time for a district work period.

Congressional recesses or district work periods are also known as the time when Congress takes vacation. The truth is that reducing them just to a vacation period does this time a disservice. District work periods are when lawmakers return to their home states to meet with constituents and staff. Here’s how to take advantage of them.

Know when district work periods occur

The best way to know about district work periods is to download or check the Majority Leader’s calendar. It’s available here (link). This schedule can change when votes change, but it’s a pretty good indication of how the congressional calendar will be during the year.

Plan ahead

If you’d like a chance to meet with the representative, you’ll need to schedule a time early. Since many people can’t afford to travel out to DC to meet with their representatives, there is a high demand for appointments in the district office during a district work period. You’ll want to put in your requests early — even 6–8 weeks in advance. Keep in mind that on occasion lawmakers will go out of town or otherwise not be in the district during work periods. The point is this, calling on the Monday of the beginning of a district work period and asking for an appointment that week isn’t practical. But, if you know the schedule, you can ask for something during the next break.

Make your request

Town hall meetings often happen during district work periods. So, if you’d like to request one, let your lawmaker know. However, town hall meetings aren’t the only way to get in front of your representative, so keep these ideas in mind:

  • Schedule an in-person meeting. Gather a group of 3–5 people who are passionate about one issue and ask for a meeting with a clear agenda. For instance, a group of physicians or educators wanting to talk about healthcare or education policy and provide insight into legislation is very valuable. Even if you don’t have professional expertise, if you can gather important personal stories, you’ll have a good pitch for an in-person meeting during a work period.
  • Offer to give a tour. If you are a business owner or run nonprofit organization, consider inviting the representative and their staff to visit your facility. And, don’t make this tour all about executives. Gather your employees and volunteers for a meeting to explain exactly what you do, why it’s important, and how laws made in Washington affect your business, your employees, and the people you serve.

Attending town hall meetings

If your representative is holding a town hall meeting, you’ll want to prepare and arrive early. Most town hall meeting venues hold 100–200 people. They will fill up quickly. You’ll want to arrive a couple hours early to make sure you get a seat. A couple more pointers:

  • Be safe. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that a few people will try to rile up the crowd and attempt to incite violence. Most town hall meetings will have at least one police officer, so if you see someone doing something dangerous, let law enforcement know.
  • Leave your signs at home. You won’t be allowed to bring them into the venue, and they are distracting and cumbersome for other attendees.
  • Keep your questions pointed and brief. Don’t spend too much time asking rhetorical questions. Make your statement and your question timely and ask specific questions. Practice beforehand if you need to.
  • Talk to staff. Staffers from the state and DC offices attend town hall meetings. Try to introduce yourself before or after the meeting and have a short conversation. This is a good way to get on their radar and possibly arrange a meeting later.

Here’s the takeaway for district work periods: don’t discount them as vacation for Congress. Utilize them as a way to meet with your representative without having to travel to Washington.