October 2013 U.S. Poverty Action

Generate Editorials and Op-Eds about Protecting SNAP (Food Stamps)

We must continue to urge Congress to work to protect and strengthen Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) in any final Farm Bill or other legislation – and sending a strong message with strategic media placements, especially op-eds and editorials, will be key. We've already generated almost 100 media pieces (double our total last year) and our goal is to get at least 30 SNAP pieces published this month– including at least 4 editorials and 8 op-eds. Use these talking points for conversations with your editorial writers or to draft an op-ed:

  1. Mention a recent story in the paper highlighting Congress and the government shutdown, the budget, or the Farm Bill. These “hooks” increase the chances of your piece getting published.
  2. Inform readers that in 2012, more than 1 in 5 children in the U.S. were at risk of going to bed hungry at night (21.6 percent). Studies show that children who are regularly hungry suffer from weakened immune systems, slowed and abnormal growth, and anemia.
  3. Tell them SNAP is our first line of defense against hunger in America. It works – in 2012, SNAP lifted 4 million people out of poverty.
  4. Explain that despite its success, Congress wants to cut SNAP as part of a new Farm Bill. Legislation passed by the House cuts 4 million low-income people off SNAP and denies 210,000 children meals at school.
  5. In particular, point out the cruel and counterintuitive nature of the House's proposed SNAP cuts – the legislation 1.7 million unemployed Americans off the program who live in high unemployment areas and want to work but cannot find a job or a slot in a job training program.
  6. Perhaps highlight that the House bill throws parents with children as young as one who cannot find work or are unable to find safe and affordable child care for their young children off of SNAP.  Only one out of six low-income families eligible for child care assistance are able to receive it now.
  7. Urge your senators and representative by name to stand up for hungry children and families and reject the cuts to SNAP passed in the House.

Note: To find contact information for media outlets in your area, including telephone numbers and addresses, visit our Media Guide at http://capwiz.com/results/dbq/media/. In addition, see our Activist Toolkit pieces on generating an editorial in your local paper and generating an op-ed . If others in your RESULTS group are taking the lead in generating editorials or op-eds, we urge you to use these talking points to write a letter to the editor  to your local papers. Be sure to send your published piece to your members of Congress!

Protecting and Strengthening SNAP is the Key to Reducing Hunger in America

The next few weeks will be critical for millions of Americans who are struggling to put food on the table. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) is the first line of defense against hunger in America. Currently, over 47 million people — almost half of them children — receive SNAP benefits. Based on U.S. Census data, SNAP kept 4 million people out of poverty in 2012. Despite SNAP’s success, Congress is looking to cut SNAP benefits for hundreds of thousands of low-income families. First, SNAP benefits are already scheduled to decrease in November 2013, when the 2009 temporary boost to benefits ends. On September 19, the House passed H.R. 3102, which will take away SNAP benefits for at least 3.8 million Americans, by a vote 217-210. The media coverage of the House bill often portrayed the House cuts as “work requirements” but as Bob Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out, the House bill would throw millions of Americans looking for work off the program. The Senate passed its Farm Bill (S.954) on June 10 with a bipartisan vote of 66 to 27. It includes $4.1 billion in cuts to SNAP.  Staff for House and Senate Agriculture Committee members are already meeting to negotiate a final Farm Bill, and a formal conference committee between the House and Senate is expected to begin meeting in the coming weeks. As Congress wrangles to resolve the government shutdown and the debate over raising the debt ceiling, it is important that you keep them focused on resolving the debate around SNAP in a way that protects and strengthens the program. Getting media published this month will help keep the attention on what matters most – protecting children and families in poverty from reckless budget cuts. See our SNAP Editorial Memo for more information about SNAP and these proposed cuts.

Pitching an Editorial is Easier than You Think

Editorials matter. In contrast to the letter to the editor or the op-ed which are the opinion of one person, the editorial is an organizational position. The paper itself is taking a side. That means a lot to lawmakers and readers – it is not as easy to dismiss as one person’s opinion, and of course politicians care what editorial writers think when it comes to endorsing candidates. In addition, editorials are prominent in the newspaper and when a paper takes a certain position, they usually stick to it and write about it more than once.

Since the editorial will be written by a writer at the paper, all you have to do is make a strong argument of why they should do it. Pitching an editorial is no different than preparing for a lobby visit with a member of Congress or a congressional aide. Here are the steps to help you:

  • Do your homework and have it ready before you call, e.g. research SNAP including local or state SNAP, hunger, or poverty data. Be prepared to share your research with the writer. Newspapers are overworked and understaffed, so the more you can provide the writer up front, the better. Use our new SNAP Editorial Memo to help you prepare.
  • Draft an EPIC Laser Talk of your “pitch” to explain the issue and why the paper should take your position. Use  a “hook” in your argument to increases your chances. For example, if there is a local event coming up that relates to your issue, include that as a reason why the paper should write about it. Practice your pitch before calling the writer (please contact RESULTS staff if you need help)
  • Send an e-mail ahead of time to the writer with a brief explanation of why you are contacting him/her and the issue you want to discuss. Tell him/her that you plan to call them later that day about writing an editorial.
  • Call up the writer that covers your issue, tell him/her that you sent the e-mail, and ask if they have a few minutes to talk about an editorial idea
  • Make your “pitch” to the writer. Have a conversation. The writer may or may not know about your issue so be prepared to answer questions, including counter arguments. If you don’t know the answer to a question, ask the writer if you can get back to him/her with an answer. Be sure to thank the writer for his/her time and that you will follow up. Be sure to send a thank you e-mail with any additional information/research to help the writer.
  • Follow up in a few days to see if the writer has any questions and to check on the status of your request.

Drafting a Powerful Op-ed Starts with a Great Lead

For newspaper editors and readers, op-eds need to start off strong. If you don’t grab the person’s attention at the beginning, you can lose them completely. That’s the “lead”, i.e. the first paragraph, of any op-ed is so important. If your lead does not relate your issue to the reader, editors won’t publish it and people won’t read it.

The easiest way to is to relate your issue to a recent event in the news. Luckily, you have plenty to choose from. For example, the government shutdown, the debt ceiling debate, the recent House SNAP vote are all good events to link to SNAP. See this lead from RESULTS Senior Associate Jos Linn in an October 3 op-ed in the Des Moines Register:

Recently, former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan held a hearing in Congress on the war on poverty. Ryan was looking to show that our anti-poverty efforts have been a failure. In his view, when it comes to the war on poverty, poverty won. I beg to differ. We didn’t lose the war on poverty. We cut and ran before it was finished.

Here are some resources to help you connect SNAP to recent poverty data releases, which may have been covered in your local news: Official U.S. Census 2012 Data on Income, Poverty, and Health Coverage; U.S. Census America Community Survey 2012 Poverty Data; Half in Ten 2012 Poverty Data Interactive Map; and the Roll Call Vote for House SNAP Bill (to see how your representative voted).

Another way to help relate your lead to readers is through story. A story is one of the easiest and most effective ways to get people’s attention. Humans are narrative creatures and when we start to hear a story, we pay attention. We want to know how it ends. Here is an excellent “story” lead from RESULTS Baltimore volunteer Jami-Lin Williams in an August 23 op-ed in the Baltimore Sun:

As an infant born in Waterville, Maine, to a single, teenage mother, I relied on food stamps for the first four months of my life. My family's economic status later required me to participate in other federal assistance programs like Head Start and the National School Lunch Program, so that I would have access to adequate nutrition and greater opportunities. Today I am a successful young woman with an undergraduate degree from Wellesley College, a master's degree from Stanford University, and a bright future.

Finally, you can also find creative ways to craft your lead to make it relatable. Think outside of the box when connecting SNAP to something readers can identify with. References to pop culture, local events, or recent stories highlighting prominent figures are good ways to craft a lead. You want it to be something that people know but might necessarily connect with your issue. Take this for example:

I just heard something interesting about George Clooney. No, it’s not about his new movie “Gravity” earning $55 million its opening weekend or the Oscar buzz around it. It’s that he is a committed advocate for the end of hunger. He and dozens or celebrities are very concerned about hunger in America and are doing what they can to solve it. We need their help now more than ever.

Whatever way you draft your lead, remember to make it powerful and relatable. You will not only increase your chances of getting published, you will create something that people will remember. For more information about drafting an op-ed, see our Activist Toolkit guide to generating an op-ed.