Opinion | Your members of Congress can directly help you, here’s how

The casework operation in Congressional offices is underutilized, yet beneficial for the American public.


Katina Zentz

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa., has a conversation at the Iowa State Capitol on Monday, January 13, 2020. The House convened and leaders in the Iowa House of Representatives gave opening remarks to preview their priorities for the 2020 session.

Sophie Stover, Opinions Contributor

Oftentimes, the general public thinks of our members of the U.S. Congress as out of touch politicians who do little to help us. When it comes to passing legislation, the process is certainly lengthy and produces results that may or may not have an impact on any given individual. However, many people are unaware of casework, which is another service that members of Congress provide to directly solve issues for their constituents.

This is a little-known operation, and every member of Congress partakes in serving their constituents through this avenue. While every office participates in casework, the elected officials can determine the amount and types of casework to pursue. The basic function of casework is that Congressional offices act as liaisons between constituents and federal agencies.

Members of Congress hire staff, called caseworkers, to facilitate communication with a federal agency on behalf of a constituent. While Congressional staffers might not always be able to produce a speedy or favorable outcome, they can at least deliver answers that the constituent may not have received otherwise.

Before I worked in Rep. Cindy Axne’s Des Moines office last summer, I was completely unaware that this service existed. I’ve now seen firsthand how beneficial casework can be for a variety of people.

One of the most common requests for casework, at least in my office, was for expedited passports. Our staff was able to contact the State Department to secure passports that were backlogged, despite the constituent previously paying for it to be expedited. Understandably, people were very excited that they wouldn’t have to miss their upcoming international travel plans.

It’s no secret that the IRS can be slow at times, so we also received many requests for tax returns that should’ve been delivered months prior. Our office was able to contact the IRS and secure delayed returns for many taxpayers. Thousands of dollars were rightly returned to taxpayers, some of whom needed the money to stay afloat.

The office I worked in not only offers state department and IRS services, but deals with almost every federal agency. From veterans having issues with the VA, folks who need help with Social Security, or individuals trying to secure a green card, our caseworkers do a great deal to aid Iowa’s residents. We even helped The Des Moines Register’s Rekha Basu track down a lost international package.

From my perspective inside the office, it was clear that casework services can be a great help to people. Yet, it’s often underused. If you’re an Iowan caught in a situation where you might need help with a federal agency, both Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst are available to help, as well as the Representative of the district in which you reside.

I can’t attest to how robust the casework operation is in every Congressional office, but I can attest to Axne’s office in Iowa’s third district, and to casework as a whole. Overall, more Americans should be aware of how they might be able to receive direct help from their elected officials.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.