February 2017 U.S. Poverty Action

Let’s Get Face-to-Face with the New Congress to Shape the First 100 Days

RESULTS volunteers know, and many others are learning, that the best way to shape Congress’s priorities is to make sure they hear from us face-to-face. With huge changes in play that will gut core anti-poverty policies such as SNAP (formerly Food Stamps) and Medicaid, we need to make sure they hear from us. This is what RESULTS volunteers do best – they highlight the important issues no one else is talking about, or make sure that conversation is heard in a powerful way by decision-makers. Congress is on recess the week of February 20 (and again in April), and this is the time to push for meet with members of Congress about poverty in America.

Schedule Face-to-Face Meetings to Discuss Strategies to End Poverty in America

  1. Coordinate with others in your group to assign someone to call each Senate and House office to request a meeting in their local offices. You can find contact information and the names of the Washington DC scheduler (under “Staff”) on our Elected Officials page at: http://capwiz.com/results/dbq/officials/. You can also dial directly to the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask for your representative’s/senator’s office.
  2. Once connected to the office, ask for the scheduler (be ready to leave a succinct voicemail).
  3. Use the following conversation as a template for the conversation with the scheduler.

Hi, my name is _________________, and I am a constituent of Rep./Sen. ______________ from ______________. I am also a volunteer with RESULTS, a grassroots volunteer group working to end hunger and poverty. I know that Rep./Sen. __________ values input from constituents on the issues that matter to us. With that in mind, our local RESULTS group would like to schedule meeting with Rep./Sen.__________ while he/she is still home for the February recess. Would it be possible to set that up today? There will be at least ____ of us at the meeting and we would like to discuss key anti-poverty policies and strategies to support economic mobility. What times would he/she be available to meet?

  1. You may be asked for a written request – use our online template to create a request letter.
  2. If the member of Congress has no time to meet this month, ask to schedule a meeting the next time he/she is back home. Also ask about any upcoming town hall meetings, and the possibility of setting up a meeting with local staff with policy aides on via phone or webinar.
  3. Be sure to note the name of the scheduler and thank that person for their assistance. If you don’t get a firm answer when you call, mention when you’ll be following up.
  4. Once you confirm a meeting, please contact Director of US Poverty Campaigns Meredith Dodson ([email protected]) for coaching, materials, and tailored requests for the meeting.

The key to a successful lobby meeting or town hall experience (below) is making sure we present specific information powerfully. Use your personal stories and local data, adapting this sample Laser Talk on protecting nutrition programs:

Engage: Nearly 1 in 5 children in the U.S. live in households that are struggling against hunger. Studies show that children who are regularly hungry struggle in school, suffer from slowed and abnormal growth, and can develop anemia.

Problem: Yet leaders in the new Congress want to drastically change the structure of food assistance which could lead to millions falling deeper into poverty.

Illustrate or Inform: SNAP (formerly Food Stamps) is the first line of defense against hunger in America. The U.S. Census reports that SNAP lifted 4.6 million people above the poverty line in 2015. As we saw during the Great Recession, SNAP is an effective response to hunger in times of economic crisis or natural disasters. But Congress wants to undo SNAP’s success by converting it to a block grant, which will eliminate its flexibility in times of need, increase costs to states, and force people deeper into poverty. [If you have a personal story, definitely share it!]

Call to Action: Will you tell congressional leaders safeguard SNAP from cuts or structural changes that undermine its effectiveness and increase hunger in America? 

Look for Recess Town Halls or Other Public Events

Getting face-to-face meetings with members of Congress is THE key strategy to move policymakers up the Champion Scale. But those meetings can sometimes be hard to come by. Attending a town halls to ask a question is the next best thing. Here are some tips to help you:

  1. Find an event to attend. Look at member of Congress websites, your local newspaper, the local news, and the internet for upcoming events in your area.
  2. Research members of Congress. Learn about members of Congress at http://capwiz.com/results/dbq/officials/ and schedule a prep call with Meredith Dodson ([email protected]). 
  3. Go in a group. Increase the chance of getting your questions asked by having others attend the event with you, each with a question to ask.
  4. Get to the event early and spread out. Getting there early and sit near the front, where you are more visible. If you’re in a group, spread out around the room to increase the chances of getting called on. If they only take written questions, have everyone in your group write down a similar question.
  5. Raise your hand FIRST, FAST, and HIGH when it’s time for questions.
  6. Ask your question to inform, not speechify. Ask a direct but concise question that informs the audience. If your question is not answered, politely repeat it asking for an appropriate response.
  7. Maximize your impact after the meeting:
    • Work the rope line: Find the exit where your member of Congress or candidate will leave to introduce yourselves and follow up, or ask an unasked question.
    • Work the staff: Find their staff and introduce yourself and your issue. Give them your contact information and any additional material you brought with you.
    • Work the media: Find the media to share about information about your issues.
  8. Written follow-up: Send a follow up email or letter to the member of Congress or candidate and the staff person. Remind them that you were at the event and recap your issue and request. If you were not able to ask your question at the event, contact the appropriate staff person to provide information and your request.