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August 2014 U.S. Poverty Action

Make the Most of the August Recess to Protect and Expand the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit

Members of Congress are home all this month and the election season is starting to gear up, so this is a great time to get out there and make your voice heard. In addition to scheduling face-to-face meetings (the focus of our July Action), going to town halls or candidate events offers us a great opportunity to build momentum for tax policies that prioritize creating economic mobility – both in the short-term (when Congress passes tax legislation during the “Lame Duck” session post-election) and long-term (when policymakers move forward on larger tax changes next year).

As RESULTS groups work to build a relationship with their members of Congress, some find it challenging to get a sit-down meeting with their senator and representative. And many more find that they can amplify their work with policymakers by attending town hall meetings and other public events. In addition, going to events with Congressional candidates can make sure ending poverty is front and center on the campaign trail. Town hall meetings are often crowded and overwhelming, but that doesn’t stop RESULTS volunteer from making them an important and effective event!

How to Work Some Magic at Town Halls and Candidate Appearances

Here are some steps to help your group make the most of town halls:

  1. Find out where your members of Congress and potential candidates will be: Make sure you connect both with your current member and any new candidates. If that candidate is elected you will have made a great first impression. Start with looking on their websites for any event listings; for current members of Congress, visit: http://capwiz.com/results/directory/congdir.tt, and for candidates: http://results.capwiz.com/election/home/. Some types of events to be on the lookout for:
    • Traditional town hall meetings. Many members of Congress also do these by phone.
    • County Fairs and local events are a great place to see your member of Congress in a fun setting. Make sure you are armed with a quality laser talk!
    • Candidate forums: These are places where candidates meet to talk to an audience and take questions. These are great places to find out where candidates stand on RESULTS issues. Additionally, if their opponent attends, it can spark interesting discussion and be particularly informative.
    • Debates: Often constituents and groups provide the questions used in debates. Find out if this is true in your area and submit your questions! Try to attend the debate and keep your ear open for RESULTS issues.
    • And, consider meeting with campaign staff: This is a chance to sit down with members of your candidate’s campaign staff. This is a wonderful opportunity to get some insight into how your candidate feels about certain issues. Ask if they would be willing to display RESULTS issues more prominently on their website and speak about them more often, and suggest a position paper to them if your candidate doesn’t have one. It is important to make anti-poverty issues paramount during this election. Raising these issues now force a candidate to take a stance.
  2. Research members of Congress and candidates: once you know you have a potential opportunity to see a candidate or a current member of Congress, contact the RESULTS office for the latest strategy, messaging insights and requests. Don’t forget you can research past votes on our website and ask coalition partners for their insights.
  3. Get there early: Make sure you are there very early. This will insure you get seats, preferably near the front of the room. Additionally, candidates will sometimes appear early and it can be a change to informally get to know your candidates. This doesn’t need to be a laser talk or a discussion about issues, but it can help with relationship building. If they are taken written questions, many places go in order of when questions were written. Therefore, getting there first can increase the chances of being able to ask your question.
  4. Spread out, but sit towards the front: During town Hall Meetings, politicians usually take questions from all around the room. Spreading your group out around the room will increase your chances of getting to ask questions about RESULTS issues.
  5. Make sure you get called upon: be “first, fast, high!” This means raise your hand immediately when it is time to ask questions, and keep it up there
  6. Use a laser talk. First, mention RESULTS and thank the candidate for being there today. Be polite, assertive and concise. Make sure you ask a specific question that requires a response. Remain focused and cordial if your question is blown over. Simply repeat your question asking for an appropriate response. You can tailor this or another sample question:
    • HELP FAMILIES EARN WHAT THEY NEED BY PROTECTING AND STRENGTHENING THE EITC AND CTC: Economic insecurity is a reality for far too many low-income families in today’s America [quickly share 1-2 sentences about your own experience if you can]. Fortunately, there are tools at our disposal that can help. The Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit provide vital financial resources to families with children; in 2012 alone, they lifted nearly 10 million people out of poverty. But important improvements to the EITC and CTC are set to expire in 2017, which would force children and families into deeper financial distress. In addition, low-income workers without children receive a very small EITC (less than $500 maximum), which makes it harder and harder for them to get out of poverty.
    • Request for Representatives: Will you speak with House leader and urge them to protect and strengthen progressivity in the tax code by making expiring EITC and CTC provisions permanent and increasing the EITC for workers without children? Specifically, I urge you to support H.R. 769 (House CTC legislation) and H.R. 2116 (House EITC legislation). Note: in follow up with the office, urge them to talk to House Ways and Means Chair Dave Camp (R-MI-4) and Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-MI-9).
    • Request for Senators: Will you talk to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and urge them to strengthen progressivity in the tax code by making the 2009 improvements to the EITC and CTC permanent and increasing the EITC for workers without children? Specifically, I urge you to support S. 836, a Senate bill that protects and expands both the Child Tax Credit and the EITC. Note: in follow up with the office, urge them to talk to Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT).
  7. Remember the Microphone Trick: Hold onto the microphone instead of handing it back to the assistant to ensure you can follow up! Finally, always be polite and never embarrass the candidate. If they cannot answer, thank them and say you will arrange for an opportunity for further discussion.
  8. All submit similar questions: If they are taking written questions, they will sometimes ask the questions that have been asked most frequently. If your whole RESULTS group asks similar questions, this will increase the chances that your question gets asked.
  9. Maximize your impact after the meeting. A few strategies:
    • Work the line: Find your member of Congress or candidate to introduce yourselves and follow up, or ask your question if you could not during the meeting. Even if it is in a handshake line, take a moment to stop and ask your question. Handshaking Trick: Shake their hand with your right and hold onto the outside of their hand with your left, this will give you the opportunity to ask your question without them pulling their hand away and moving to the next person.
    • Work the staff: Introduce yourselves and your issue. This is a good chance to give them your contact information and any additional material you brought with you.
    • Work the media: Find the media to share your issues, whether they were covered or not during the meeting.
  10. Written Follow-Up: After a few days send a follow up e-mail or letter to the member of Congress or candidate and the staff person. Remind them that you were at the forum; recap your issue, question and request. If you were not able to ask your question at the meeting, include that you were there at the meeting and contact the appropriate legislative staff person to present your issue.
  11. Share Information: Share what your learned to your group and network. Give them these tips and anything else you learned from your experience
  12. Persistence pays off: Keep following up until you get a response to your question or request!

For additional tips on how to schedule your face-to-face meeting, check out our Activist Milestone: Ask a question at a town hall meeting or a candidates forum and our accompanying PowerPoint.

Learn more about making the most of town hall meetings by listening to the August 2014 RESULTS U.S. Poverty National Conference Call. Guest speaker Tom LaPointe, a former legislator from Maine and former Director of Every Child Matters in Iowa shared his unique experience as both a lawmaker and advocate about face-to-face encounters with members of Congress and pushing lawmakers to support social justice issues. We also did a training to teach you how to make the most of town hall meetings. Listen to the recording and download the slides and summary of the call on our National Conference Calls page.

Monthly Action for your Local Action Networks

Keep your local action networks engaged this month by pasting this message into an email to send them:

Congress is at it again. At the end of July, the House passed another tax cut for wealthier families while cutting over 5 million children out of the Child Tax Credit. Congress should be working to help individuals and families who need it, not passing costly tax cuts for those who don’t. Send a message to your representatives and senators this month, telling them to protect and expand tax credits for hard-working Americans. Use the RESULTS e-mail action to send your message today! Also, remember that Congress is on recess all this month. If there is a town hall in your area, plan to go and ask a question. Read the RESULTS August 2014 Action for tips on what to do and what to say at these town halls.