Want to Influence the “Super Committee”? Some Tools to Help You Do That

Meredith Dodson, Director of U.S. Poverty Campaigns
October 06, 2011

First, let's understand poverty in America. The latest Census Poverty and Health Insurance Data released September 13, 2011, paints a grim and sober picture in numbers about poverty in America along with important insights into what has worked to reduce the some of the impact. Of course these numbers do not speak about those working and near the poverty line or the impact on feelings of hope and dignity. About 46.2 million Americans (15.1 percent) lived below the poverty line ($22,050 for a family of four) in 2010 and the poverty rate for children under 5 in the U.S. is 25.9 percent. The percentage of Americans in poverty in 2010 was the highest since 1993 and the poverty rate has increased by 2.6 percent since 2007. 6.7 percent of all people, or 20.5 million, had income below half of their poverty threshold, up from 6.3 percent in 2009. Median household income, after factoring in inflation, was lower in 2010 than in 1997. The Census data offered some good news (and proof of what we knew already): the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) lifted 5.4 million and SNAP (formerly the Food Stamp program) 3.9 million people above the poverty line in 2010 under the Census' alternative computation. In addition, the Census found that 49.9 million Americans (16.3 percent) were without health insurance coverage in 2010. Again, the Census data shows that safety net programs for children work: as private insurance coverage for children dropped by 800,000, Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) covered 700,000 more kids in 2010. Half in Ten: The Campaign to Cut Poverty in Half in Ten Years has compiled 2010 poverty data by congressional district as well as by state. For more on the latest Census data, see the Coalition on Human Needs' Poverty Day 2011 page for analyses from many organizations and other resources.

Another resource for understanding poverty in America is the Annie E. Casey Foundation's (AECF) KIDS COUNT Data Book, which is designed to measure the well-being of America's children over time (this book covers the years 2000-2009). AECF looked at ten different measures, such as infant mortality, teen birth rates, child poverty, and unemployment in the household, to assess child well-being. The report concludes that the recent recession has made things much harder for many children living in America, resulting in stagnation of overall child well-being since 2000. While there have been decreases in some areas like teen drop-out rates and teen death rates, those gains have been offset by increases in child poverty, unemployment among parents, and children in single-parent households. For example, the child poverty rate has increased 18 percent since 2000, all but wiping out any gains made in the late 1990s (between 1994 and 2000, child poverty dropped 30 percent). This means that 2.4 million more children were living in poverty in 2009 than in 2000. In addition, 31 percent of children live in households where NO parent has full-time, year-round work. When it comes to child well-being, we are clearly going in the wrong direction. Also, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has a breakdown of child poverty in the states.

So, obviously any work Congress does to address the federal budget deficit should not make this worse, right?

We recently featured on our blog our set of principles we urge members of the Super Committee to abide by in any deficit reduction deal. To be effective, it also helps to know what's out there to help you make your case. Specifically, we first suggest making the issues real -- your own experiences, site visits to programs in your community, or work with coalition partners can help you do that. Also, Half in Ten has compiled personal stories from around the country from people impacted by poverty and the programs we support. also has some other helpful tools, including a list of how you can use these stories in your state, fact sheets about poverty in the districts of Super Committee members, and an interactive map on “what’s at stake” in deficit-reduction by congressional district and state (includes number of constituents on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP, Pell and Head Start, as well as poverty numbers, FRAC’s food hardship data and the uninsured). The National Women's Law Center also has state-by-state fact sheets for advocates focused on the Super Committee. And the National Priorities Project has a tool that helps advocates choose your budget priorities from the options that Congress has looked and we'll tell them what people want their federal budget to look like: Build A Better Budget.

Then, it's all about TAKING ACTION: Urge members of Congress to protect America’s most vulnerable from reckless and heartless budget cuts. Be sure to highlight the new poverty data with members of Congress and urge them to talk to Super Committee members about protecting low-income Americans in deficit-reduction talks. Here are the three principles we expect the Super Committee to follow:

1.      Any deficit reduction plan must protect low-income Americans and not increase poverty.

2.      Any deficit reduction agreement must include revenue as part of the solution.

3.      Use job creation and rebuilding our economy as the guide for any deficit reduction package.

It's easy, we promise. Watch a RESULTS activist call in to her U.S. Representative to protect the poorest Americans while baking a birthday cake with her daughter: Calling Congress Easier than Baking a Cake:

Use our updated online call-in alert to look up your members of Congress, and Families USA has a great set of talking points you can use with policymakers specifically on the importance of protecting Medicaid.

Can't call? We also have easy online actions you can take to weigh in with your members of Congress to protect those living in poverty, including a template to send an email to support Medicaid, the nutrition programs and tax credits like the EITC for low-income working families.

Then, take it to the next level. We have an updated letter-to-the-editor template on our website’s Take Action Center so you can push for a fair and balanced budget deal in your local media.

Remember: it's all about being heard -- and because voters choose whether or not to keep policymakers employed, you are the boss!