Federal Budget Toolkit: 3 Step Guide

Our voices are critically important and decision makers need to hear how important federal programs and agencies are to our communities and watersheds.

This 3-Step Guide outlines how we can let our senators, representatives and the Administration know the real-world impacts budgetary decisions have on our communities:

1. Focus on an Issue

The federal budget impacts us all – consider the following focus areas in determining what story you want to tell: 

Potential Focus Areas 

Health impacts: How would budget investment or divestment affect the health of your community?  

  • Examples: 
    • Lead in water – programs and grants for analysis and/or abatement 
    • Drinking water analysis – ground water contamination (nitrates, toxic chemicals) 
    • Drinking water infrastructure programs and grants – wells, treatment plants 

Economic impacts: How would the proposed budget impact the state or local economy?  

  • Examples: 
    • Harm to businesses due to pollution – could be caused by aging wastewater infrastructure, Superfund sites 
    • Harm to businesses due to poor drinking water quality – poor drinking water infrastructure, inadequate analysis and science, upstream toxic contamination 
    • Harm to businesses due to fewer people fishing, going to beach, recreating around water due to pollution – nutrients/algal blooms, toxic contamination 

Rural impacts: How would the proposed budget impact rural communities? 

  • Examples: 
    • Determine if there’s adequate support for wastewater or drinking water infrastructure 
    • Funding for groundwater analysis 
    • Leaking Underground Storage Tank clean-up funding 
    • Impacts to Tribal assistance grants 
2. Assess Impacts of Budget Decisions

A. Compile existing information:

Once you decide what issue you will focus on, the next step is to gather information. Many news organizations, academic institutions, state and local agencies, and nonprofits identify the likely impacts of proposed federal budget cuts on state water resources. The cuts or increases may be in water programs or grants, or they may be in non-water specific programs (e.g., USDA conservation programs, rural water infrastructure). 

Figure out which budget version the information applies to as you find information. The analyses may be of the President’s budget, or they may address proposals from Congress.

Information Sources:

  • Search for any relevant analysis done by news outlets in your state, e.g., Google: “EPA budget cuts Alaska” or “USDA conservation budget changes in South Carolina.”
  • Review existing state-specific analyses:

B. Gather additional information:

The news stories you find and the national analyses that are available can tell a story of the impacts to your state, your watershed and your community. If you are time limited this will be important information to share with media and decision makers.

With more time, you can dig a little deeper. For example, determine how much of the federal money that goes to your state environmental agency goes to water program(s) and more specifics on what it funds (including staff positions).  Details like these will help you determine what is most at risk and where to focus time and effort on telling a more detailed story.

Potential areas to dive into:

  • How does the agency use federal funds for water-related projects and programs? Ask for documents that break it down in sufficient detail.
  • How are the funds divided among program administration (staff, office, etc.) and project grants? These categories will have different local impacts, and the grants may not be regular or certain year-to-year.
  • Has the state done an analysis of the potential losses and how it would shift its resources to address the shortfall?
  • Has the state prioritized programs and functions under various reduced funding scenarios?
  • What other state agencies contribute to the work needed to protect water resources (e.g, fish and wildlife agency, health agency, agriculture department)?
  • Has the state compiled the potential cumulative impacts to water resources across agencies? And if not, is there someone who can help you with such an analysis?

How to get this information

There are several ways to seek the information you need. Here are just a few ideas to get you started. Chances are, you have even better ideas that are most appropriate for where you work.

  • Familiar face – If you have previously worked with someone at a state agency, it is always best to start with them. You may get redirected a few times, but a familiar face often gets you to the right place faster.
  • Program staff working on your focus issue – If you don’t have personal contacts, you will get to your answers most quickly from staff working in the program of interest.
  • Government relations – Given the high profile of the budget this year, you might start with someone who works on federal government relations for your state. They, in turn may refer you to specific departments.
  • EPA Region water staff – If you aren’t having luck with your own state environmental agency, try your EPA Regional office and ask how they distribute funds in the program areas of interest to your state.
3. Tell the Story

Communicating and putting a face on federal budget cuts 

Our partners at Resource Media offer this advice: 

  • Choose the most compelling story in your community– a wide range of targeted programs matter to your community, consider which will be most compelling when deciding where to focus 
  • Choose a good messenger – find a compelling spokesperson that can speak to the health, economic or environmental impacts on the ground 
  • Incorporate different views – look for conservative and progressive perspectives 
  • Focus on health – health impacts resonate 
  • Point out the impacts to state and local governments – this issue will resonate with both political parties 
  • Let your spokesperson tell the story – focus on telling a good story, facts matter but don’t let them bog you down (check out Resource Media’s Toolbox for lots of resources on impactful story telling) 

With this advice in mind, you’ll want to figure out:  

  1. Your message 
  2. Your messenger(s) 
  3. The method of delivery 


Check out this easy-to-use worksheet from Resource Media to help you develop your message: Building a Message 

Messengers (aka Spokespeople) 

Consider the following messengers: 

  • Small businesses or industries: Who do you know that owns a business or is in an industry impacted by the budget proposal? Would they be willing to be a spokesperson to talk about what the proposed budget will do to them and their business? If you don’t know a business owner personally, don’t be afraid to reach out. Many care about this issue and want to help protect water. 
  • Outdoors enthusiasts: Do you know someone who enjoys hunting, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, or swimming with their family and friends? See if they’d be willing to be a spokesperson to talk about what the proposed budget will do for the waters or lands where they enjoy these activities. 
  • Impacted communities: Do you know someone who lives or works in a community where there are ongoing pollution or drinking water problems? Ask if they’d be willing to talk about what the proposed budget will mean for their family and community. 
  • Local or state agency staff: Try speaking with the local and state program staff who are impacted by the proposed budget. Perhaps they’ll be eager to speak about the impact the proposed budget will have locally and/or statewide and what could be lost or gained depending on the outcome. 

Getting Your Message Out 

Consider the following channels for message delivery: 

  • Media 
    • Pitch the story to: 
      • reporters at local, regional and state-wide newspapers 
      • area broadcast television news programs 
      • local, regional and state-wide talk-radio programs 
    • Offer your story to a newspaper as an Op Ed 
  • Your own communication channels 
    • Share the story in: 
      • your newsletter 
      • an email action alert 
      • your blog 
      • on your social media channels – encourage your followers to share with their followers 

Once your message is delivered through one of these, or other, channels, consider how you can leverage it and distribute it further: 

  • Share your published media story in your newsletters, by email, and on your social media channels 
  • Ask your partners to share in their newsletters, by email, and on their social media channels 
  • Ask your supporters to share via their social media networks 
  • Send your published media story to your representatives in Congress 
More Info

Go back to the Federal Budget Toolkit homepageto access information on: 

  • Why Get Involved 
  • How the Budget’s Developed 
  • Resources 
  • Budget Stories in the News 

Resource Materials