A common theme this campaign season has been disappointment over how little our elected representatives have accomplished of late.
Gridlock and infighting have prevented the passage of legislation that deals with long-term challenges related to tax reform, energy and immigration, among other issues.
Blame whomever you want for this. But don't underestimate how much help you can sometimes get with your own financial problems from the people you put in the Senate or the House of Representatives.
Every one of them has employees who do what is known as constituent service, helping people with thorny problems that may involve a federal agency. Most often, they are trying to sort out Social Security problems, federal disability filings, Internal Revenue Service headaches, veterans' benefits and mortgage issues. Immigration requests involving small-business employees and newly married couples are common, too.
These staff members often refer to their efforts on your behalf as casework and treat it as a social worker would, keeping files on each person who seeks help.
What follows is a rundown of some of the many roles these caseworkers take on, including surprising advice on how early in your problem-solving process you should contact them.
Switchboard operator: Sometimes people call or write to their representatives because they don't know who else to call.
Often, callers' issues are ones that state legislators or local officials must handle. Still, that's an easy referral to make: Many House and Senate staff members know whom to contact elsewhere, and many have even worked in other parts of government.
So don't worry too much about being a pest. In fact, it's better to call too soon than too late.
Mediator: In a recent article in the Sunday Review section of The New York Times Fred A. Bernstein, a journalist and lawyer, mentioned a friend who got a mortgage modification. Her senator made an inquiry with a regulator after her own extensive efforts at persuading her lender to adjust her loan had failed.
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 only do so if they believe a legitimate question has gone unanswered.
Red-tape cutter: The fact is that House and Senate staff members have a better set of scissors than you do.
Gene Crockett, a constituent liaison for Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, has wielded the shears a number of times.
A couple of years ago, he heard from a constituent who relied entirely on his Social Security check for his living expenses. The check had stopped coming. Eventually, Crockett discovered that a clerk had switched two digits when recording somebody else's Social Security number.
Expediter: Every so often, when things are truly dire, a nudge from a member of Congress can make the rules work as they ought to more quickly, such as getting disability processed faster.
Ron Lieber is the Your Money columnist for the New York Times. Reach him on Twitter @ronlieber.