The Bonne Terre Chamber of Commerce members had the opportunity to learn what their local congressman offers constituents in the district.

During the chamber meeting last month, Donna Hickman, district office director for U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, discussed the many ways Smith can help constituents. 

“The Farmington office represents St. Francois County and several other counties around here,” said Hickman. “There are 30 counties in the 8th Congressional District and that is bigger than a lot of states. We have five offices around the district to take care of those constituents.”

Hickman said in the Farmington office they take care of constituents in eight counties that surround St. Francois County. She added the issues they have are pretty amazing.

“Our role is to fulfill part of the First Amendment. Everybody thinks the First Amendment has to do with primarily freedom of speech,” Hickman said. “There is also a provision of the First Amendment that talks about your rights, our rights as American citizens, to address a wrong the government has done you.”

Hickman said in today’s world everything is web-based and making a phone call will result in an automated system telling the caller to visit the website. The best avenue to take is contacting the congressional office to speak with a real person.

“They will help you navigate all the red tape that gets in the way of you living the life you want to live,” said Hickman. “The people who come to us have issues with federal agencies and that is where the congressman can help and try to find a resolution.”

Hickman said they can’t always get what the person is hoping for, but they can certainly try to get answers.

“For example, we work with Social Security to try to track down information about disability for those folks who applied and have not yet heard,” said Hickman. “Keep in mind that may take two or three years to get that resolved.”

Hickman said they work with veterans to understand their benefit situation and also, in many cases, to help them track down medals they should have received and didn’t get or to get their DD-214, which has their service information on it.

“We work with the Internal Revenue Service to help those with identity theft,” said Hickman. “They think they have it resolved and then they file their next year’s taxes and the issue pops back up. They want resolution, so they will come to us and we try to help them get one.”

Hickman said they deal with immigration issues.

Recently they had a couple whose wedding was just days away and they hadn’t received one of their passports.

“So it turned out that he thought he needed to apply for a new passport and they got a letter back from the passport office that said he had a passport in the past and needed to apply to have reissued,” Hickman said. “So they sent another form and he resent it. That was six weeks before they call us and they are panicked.”

Hickman said they were able to locate the passport and get it to them before the wedding so they could take their honeymoon with no issues.

“That is one of the things the congressman is able to do,” Hickman said. “Postal issues, we deal with those. The Bureau of Fiscal Service, if you owe the government any money, they will eventual get it from you. They determine what you owe and in what form they will get it from you. We work with them to resolve issues. “

Hickman said they also help with educational loans to try and track down what the person owes. She added they will try to see if the Department of Education agrees with what is owed and if there is any way that those loans can be forgiven for a hardship.

“We ask the questions on behalf of the constituent and try to get them the answers they seek,” said Hickman. “Again, they are not always the answers they want, but they are answers. The congressman fills out an inquiry and he lets the federal agency know what the issue is on behalf of the constituent.”

Hickman said each federal agency has a person that works with the congressional offices to help constituents, but he can do nothing with legal matters.

“Other things we do in the office is represent the congressman at meetings around the eight counties that we serve,” said Hickman. “We write weekly reports about what he needs to know what is going on in his area.”

Hickman said they also help people who are going to Washington D.C. to schedule tours of the capitol. She added anyone can order a flag through their office that has been flown over the capitol. There is a fee, but they will get that flag to you.

“You can also put your child’s name in a petition for an appointment to one of the military academies,” said Hickman. “It’s a very long process, but if you have someone who is interested in going to one of the academies, the congressman can help to make that happen through a nomination process.”

Hickman said to find out more visit jasonsmith.house.gov.

Renee Bronaugh is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3617 or rbronaugh@dailyjournalonline.com

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