Each year, the UnidosUS Changemakers Summit brings together hundreds of aspiring and veteran advocates from our Affiliates to the nation’s capital to learn from UnidosUS policy leaders, collaborate with peers, and build professional relationships.
The success of our policy and advocacy work hinges on the alignment of our policy, programs, and Affiliate partners to advance equity for Latinos. That’s why UnidosUS, the nation’s largest Latino civil rights and advocacy organization, held the 2023 UnidosUS Changemakers Summit: The Power of US from February 13-15 at the Hilton Washington DC Capitol Hill. Over these three days, attendees obtained insider access to seasoned advocacy and government leaders and received training on how to work with Congress and the administration to advance their community’s agenda.
Workshop: Policy Advocacy: Effectively Raising Your Issues with the Administration
On day one, our summit kicked off with a workshop about increasing effectiveness in terms of administrative advocacy.
We were joined by several speakers and panelists for this session, including Rosario Mendez, Attorney at the Federal Trade Commission; Sonia Lin, Senior Fellow at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; Santiago Sueiro, Senior Policy Analyst, Economic Policy Project at UnidosUS; Brayan Rosa-Rodríguez, Senior Policy Analyst, Economic Policy Project at UnidosUS; Luis Quinones, Senior Director of Adult Education and Workforce Development at UnidosUS; and Laura MacCleery, Senior Policy Director at UnidosUS.
In this workshop, attendees learned about how to maximize the power of their roles to impact policy decisions being made on the federal level, as well as best practices for leading advocacy initiatives that benefit their communities and organizations.
Laura MacCleery: “Our vision of change is much larger than the staff of UnidosUS, it’s much larger than any particular organization, it’s about what the community can do. This is meant to be an invitation to understand all the different ways we can wield power together, to grow our reach and power, and to think deeply about the ways the Latino community continues to need to be heard and taken into account in direct policy.”
Plenary: The Power of US: The Congressional Landscape and its Implications for Latino Policy Priorities
During our first plenary, members of our policy team reviewed UnidoUS’s policy focuses for the new 118th Congress, which signals greater challenges ahead in advancing bipartisan legislation, especially for Latino-centered policies in immigration, homeownership, and economic empowerment.
We were joined by Cietta Kiandoli, Director of Engagement for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer; Laura Vasquez Associate Director of Immigration Initiatives at UnidosUS; Sam Kenney, Senior Housing Policy Analyst at UnidosUS; Alvaro Zarco, Senior Legislative Analyst at UnidosUS; and Susan Collins, Senior Director of Legislative Affairs at UnidosUS.
Cietta Kiandoli highlighted wins that advanced equity from the last Congress such as the American Rescue Plan, Inflation Reduction Act, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act, among others. Kiandoli stressed that despite challenges ahead, her office is committed to working on bipartisan solutions to move our country forward, “there’s much that we have to be proud of, but there’s a lot to be hopeful for in the 118th Congress and a lot more that we need to accomplish.”
Learn more about our policy focuses for the 118th Congress here.
During our summit breakfast on day two, we had an amazing panel themed “Hermanas in Service and Justice.” We were honored to be joined by two trailblazing Latinas who happen to be sisters: January Contreras, Assistant Secretary, Administration for Children and Families, and Melanie Fontes Rainer, Director, Office for Civil Rights, United States Department of Health and Human Services.
They discussed the formative experiences that sparked their passions for advocacy, the importance of representation of the Latinx community in all levels of government, and the crucial need for the younger generation to step into advocacy and continue fighting for a place at the table.
Melanie Fontes Rainer wrapped up the panel with a powerful call to action: “Use your voice, and use it loud… Please, especially my young colleagues.”
PLENARY: Interested in Federal Funding?
This plenary session walked attendees through navigating the challenges and opportunities of accessing federal funding. We were joined by panelists who have effectively engaged in this process, including fellow Affiliates and UnidosUS staff, who talked about what to keep in mind when considering opportunities like applying for federal agency grants or informing and accessing federal funding from state and local governments. Our panelists, Mauricio Calvo, CEO, Latino Memphis; Rita Carreón, Vice President, Health, UnidosUS; Dr. Jeffrey Levi, Professor of Health Policy and Management, Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University; and Kennedy O’Dell, Policy Advisor, Office of Senator Bob Casey discussed how attendees could expand the impact of their work through federal funding opportunities and the need to increase the amount of community-based organizations that apply and successfully access these funds.
Our summit luncheon was a big hit, as we were joined by Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, after which we had a panel conversation with Alvaro Bedoya, Commissioner, Federal Trade Commission; Claudia Chavez, Special Assistant to the President, Office of Presidential Personnel, Candidate Recruitment; and Hector Sanchez Barba, Executive Director & CEO, Mi Familia Vota.
Our speakers delivered powerful and inspirational remarks about representation of the Latinx community in government and the stark difference it makes when our voices are heard and represented in government.
Secretary Cardona noted that we should always remember our raíces regardless of where we are: “I bring sazón to it, and you, as changemakers, bring sazón to wherever you go!”
Workshop: Digital Equity for All of US – Community Voice in State Plans
This session focused on how community-based organizations can apply for federal funding to improve digital equity in their communities. We were joined by Michell Morton, Digital Equity Advisor, Digital Equity Advisor, Department of Commerce; Mark Colón, Direct, Office of Public Engagement for National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA); Gilbert Resendez, Federal Program Officer, NTIA; and Claudia Ruiz, Policy Analyst, UnidosUS. They highlighted the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program that plans to over $42 billion to expand high-speed internet access. The program aims to get all Americans online by funding partnerships between states or territories, communities and stakeholders to build infrastructure where we need it to and increase adoption of high-speed internet. For those interested in learning more please visit internetforall.gov.
Workshop: Shielding Families from Health Care Losses During the Medicaid Unwinding
In this session with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS), panelists discussed the upcoming Medicaid cliff which will potentially leave 15 million people — including 5 million Latinos — without healthcare, despite many of them still being eligible for the programs they will be removed from. During the COVID-19 pandemic, states were unable to terminate Medicaid coverage for anyone who joined the program, but this requirement will end on April 1, 2023. Panelists included Marvin Figueroa, Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs, US Department of Health and Human Services; Anne Marie Costello, Deputy Center Director, Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services; and Otto Valenzuala, Associate Director of Public Policy & Advocacy, Hispanic Unity of Florida. They discussed plans to ensure people stay covered and what community-based organizations and advocates can do to educate and prepare their communities for the upcoming Medicaid renewals.
— UnidosUS (@WeAreUnidosUS) February 15, 2023
On day three, Affiliates and community leaders from around the country had the opportunity to take what they learned at #Changemakers23 and go on legislative visits. Legislative visits are an opportunity for Affiliates to meet with their members of congress, advocate on issues critical to their community and organization, build relationships, and strengthen their advocacy muscle. We look forward to doing it all again next year!