By Lili Stapel
Rep. Chuck Edwards began his term serving Western North Carolina in the U.S. House on Jan. 3. As part of his efforts to fulfill campaign promises, the District 11 Republican has made a running start in providing a variety of constituent services.
Constituent services are offered by all congressional offices to assist those who live in their districts. Whether it be through referrals to federal agencies, Social Security or veterans benefit applications, internships, business grants or policy concerns, Edwards and his staff say they’re ready to help WNC residents.
Those efforts faced initial challenges when Madison Cawthorn, Edwards’ Republican predecessor, failed to pass along his files of existing cases before leaving office. But Edwards is hopeful for the future, as dozens of constituents with open cases under Cawthorn have already reached out to continue the process.
Xpress spoke with Edwards in the latest installment of our “WTF?” feature — Want the Facts — to learn more about what his office can provide, how residents can reach out and what his goals are for constituent service.
What constituent services are available?
The most common services are referrals to federal agencies. For example, parents looking for information on how to apply for financial aid on behalf of their students may contact Edwards’ office, and his staff would answer any questions before steering them to the U.S. Department of Education’s student aid resources.
Due to the popularity of WNC as a retirement destination, Edwards says, most casework in the district involves applications for Social Security, veterans benefits, Medicare and obtaining missing payments from federal agencies.
“We get a lot of veterans that are contacting us because they’ve had a tough time accessing veterans benefits. For example, we just finished a 15-county tour that began at the [Charles George Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center] in Asheville,” Edwards says. “There were a number of veterans that knew we were going to be there that met us at that hospital to share some casework concerns that they had, some new and some ongoing.”
Congressional offices also assist with immigration matters, offer internships for students, write U.S. service academy nominations, vet applications for Capitol tours and gallery passes, and listen to any policy concerns.
How can constituents access services?
“All you have to do is call my D.C. office or my Hendersonville district office, and you’ll be connected with very capable, competent people that are equipped to handle almost any issue,” says Edwards.
Edwards’ Washington office can be reached at 202-225-6401, and the Hendersonville district office number is 828-435-7310. Questions or concerns can also be submitted online at Edwards.House.Gov.
Who handles constituent service cases?
Edwards says he’s determined to be the face of his constituent service efforts, but he has been busy building his staff since his victory over Cawthorn in November. On Nov. 14, he issued a press release announcing his appointment of Bronwyn Lance as chief of staff, the first woman to hold that position in District 11. He has also brought on Chris Burns as his Hendersonville-based district director.
Lance will manage the day-to-day operations of Edwards’ office, as well as serve as a liaison between him and his constituents. She brings decades of experience in government and nonprofit organizations to her new role, including time working for former District 11 Republican Charles Taylor.
Burns will be responsible for overseeing the district office, helping constituents with issues and coordinating with local elected officials. He is a Hendersonville native, president of the Summit Marketing Group and co-founder of the Friends of the Ecusta Trail.
What are Edwards’ goals for constituent services?
Since being elected to the N.C. Senate in 2016, Edwards says he has worked to make sure that he is accessible to his constituents. When asked about his goals for the term, Edwards says he hopes “to be available, to listen and to have a team that is passionate about serving the people.”
Edwards says he is committed to providing the best constituent services possible and has already begun working with his staff to create a more efficient system for handling requests. He encourages constituents to reach out with their concerns by phone or email and says he’s willing to have one-on-one meetings whenever possible. He also plans to host virtual town hall meetings to better understand the needs of constituents.
“I’m a common working man from Western North Carolina that has figured out how to live the American dream,” says Edwards. “I very much want to help improve the lives of other folks living in Western North Carolina.”