The term “casework” refers to assistance provided by members of Congress to constituents who need help while filing a grievance with the federal government or a federal agency.
In a lot of cases, constituents don’t know how to get help if they have an issue relating to federal government services or a problem with federal programs. “Casework” gives these constituents a chance to seek that help from their representatives in Washington.
Casework is an extensive and all-encompassing term that covers a lot of ground: “Each year, thousands of constituents turn to Members of Congress with a wide range of requests, from the simple to the complex. Members and their staffs help constituents deal with administrative agencies by acting as facilitators, ombudsmen, and, in some cases, advocates. In addition to serving individual constituents, some congressional offices also consider as casework liaison activities between the federal government and local governments, businesses, communities, and nonprofit organizations.”
In 2016, the MinnPost described casework as “Congress’ most important function (that almost no one uses),” adding: “An enormous amount of time, effort, and resources flows toward casework, and many members of Congress will tell you that helping constituents is their most important responsibility.”
A 2017 report issued by Congressional Research Service highlighted some areas which see the most frequent use of casework:
Tracking a misdirected benefits payment; filling out a government form; applying for Social Security, veterans’, education, and other federal benefits, explaining government activities or decisions; applying to a military service academy; seeking relief from a federal administrative decision; and seeking assistance for those immigrating to the United States or applying for U.S. citizenship.
To let Americans know about the availability of casework, certain members of Congress provide information on their websites about how their constituents can seek out help, as seen here on Maryland Rep Jamie Raskin’s site. And here on the site of South Dakota Senator John Thune.
Of course, casework only goes so far. As explained by the New York Times, “caseworkers are wary of promising too much on this front. They are not supposed to talk to your lender; they can only speak to its regulator, often the comptroller of the currency. And they will usually do so only if they believe a legitimate question has gone unanswered.”
As Congress Foundation points out, Congress has its ways of making sure a constituents request for casework is legitimate: “Though many constituents come to their congressional office to ask for legitimate help with an agency issue, there are plenty of inquiries that are not serious or require a caseworker to step in. Asking constituents to sign a Privacy Release Form is a professional way a caseworker can ensure a constituent is serious about their problem and willing to provide the necessary information to pursue a solution.”