August 2010 U.S. Poverty Action
Call on Congress to Invest in Families Now! (Media Action)
Take Action! Place an Op-Ed or Write a Letter Telling Congress to Support Families through the EITC and CTC
Note: Brevity is key in letters; most newspapers have a 150–250 word limit for letters to the editor. Be sure to send a published copy of your letter to your members of Congress and the RESULTS office. For more information, please see our Activist Milestones for Writing a Letter to the Editor and Writing an Op-ed.
It’s Time to Invest in Families
Over the last few years, we’ve been bombarded with information about how to rescue our economy from the recent financial collapse. But a fundamental question has been ignored throughout this process — what kind of economy do we want to create? Or more importantly, what kind of values do we hold dear and how can we shape our economy to fulfill them?
One of our core American values is that children should be allowed to grow up healthy and have the opportunity to achieve their potential. And the primary means to ensure that is through strong and supportive families. Children thrive in families that not only have the love and affection necessary for any healthy upbringing, but who also have adequate resources to meet basic human needs. Therefore, an important role for our government should be to create public structures and economic policies that support American working families.
We’ve watched the bailout and rescues of big banks and insurance companies. But how is Congress helping families — and especially their children — impacted by the recession that these corporate giants helped cause? The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the 2009 economic recovery bill, made significant investments in American families. An important part of this was the expansion of tax credits specifically designed to support working families. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which encourages work in low-income populations and keeps millions of children and families out of poverty each year, was improved so that couples would not lose all or part of their EITC simply for getting married. ARRA also increased the EITC for families with 3 or more children (previously they got the same credit as two-children families), who face greater expenses in raising their children. The Child Tax Credit (CTC) was also expanded so more low-income workers could claim the credit (those earning more than $3,000). This change has primarily benefitted full-time minimum wage families.
But these ARRA expansions expire at the end of 2010. We need Congress to make these expansions of the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit permanent before this year is over. It’s through these refundable tax credits that families have more money to put food on the table, and pay the rent and utility bills. If they expire, 7 million people will lose these benefits. Congress will be passing a tax bill before year end, and that’s why it’s critical that we make our voices heard. By generating media around these issues during the August recess, members of Congress will see that people in their home districts want them to take action that support American working families. Congress will return to Washington in September and will address what to do with the expiring 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. Of course, we should build on this media coverage by setting up meetings with members of Congress back home and ask if they have spoken or written to key committee members about making the 2009 improvements to the EITC and CTC permanent (our July Action).
Tax Policy Should Focus on Working Families, Not More Tax Breaks for the Wealthy
In 2001 and 2003, President Bush and Congress enacted a broad series of tax cuts. According to Citizens for Tax Justice, the Bush tax cuts have cost $2.1 trillion over the last ten years, with 52.5 percent of the benefits going to the top five percent income earners.
Proponents of these cuts argued that cutting taxes for the wealthy would unleash economic investment and innovation leading to prosperity for everyone. That has not been the case. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) has shown that between 2002 and 2007 (the last economic expansion), the top 1 percent received two-thirds of the income gains. Despite the data, many members of Congress are now demanding that all the Bush tax cuts be extended. They claim that these cuts need to be maintained to help the economy. But Princeton economic Alan Blinder recently said that extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy would not create jobs. In addition, CBPP states that if the tax cuts for top 2 percent are extended, it would cost about $1 trillion over the first ten years. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has said that allowing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy to expire will not have a negative impact on the economy and will help with deficit reduction.
Messaging Tip — Focus on Values and How Public Policy Supports Them
The messaging for this action is a little different from what we are normally accustomed to. Recent studies have shown that for organizations that support government involvement in solving societal problems, it can be an uphill climb in generating public support. However, it can be done if done right. One of the ways to get it right is that instead of simply emphasizing the harsh consequences of government inaction, it is more effective to emphasizing the values our society holds dear and making the connection between public structures (government policies) and fulfillment of those values. If we only focus on the negative, people can get overwhelmed and turned off. That does not mean there is no for talking about the realities of inaction; it just does not always have to be the first and/or only point.
Therefore, in this action, we are focusing on a basic American and human value — support for and by the family and the public policies that help us maintain and strengthen that value. By connecting government policies (the EITC and CTC) with supporting families, we begin to show others that our public structures to play an important role in supporting families and that we are right as a people to enact those policies. We cannot forget that our government is us — the people — and the economy is something we create. We can therefore, through the power of collective governance, shape an economy that benefits everyone and creates a better future for our children.
Fortunately, this type of messaging is perfect for RESULTS activists. RESULTS has spent more than a generation inspiring decision-makers and the public at large to make ending poverty a top priority. We have a natural affinity toward messages and stories that will move people to act. As activists well-accustomed to making the connection between public policy and individual prosperity, this action again gives us the opportunity to change the conversation from why should government get involved to how best can we create the America and world we all want to see.
Tips on Generating a Letter to the Editor — Remember Your C’s
Be Current. Responding to a recent article in the newspaper will increase your odds of being published.
Be Clear and Concise. Most papers will not print letters that are more than 200–250 words. Some papers limit them to 150 words. The shorter the letter, the more likely it will be published. Stick to one subject and check your grammar. Create your letter using the EPIC format (Engage, state the Problem, Inform about a solution, give a Call to action). After you have written your letter, read it aloud (this really works). Ask yourself: Is my point clear? Is my letter compelling? Can I shorten it and still get my point across? See our Media Hooks and Framing page for tips on how to word your letter.
Connect the Dots. Connect the dots between your community and families that are suffering.
Be Challenging. Feel free to question what others have said or done, and even start your letter off with a feisty first sentence. However, be sure to avoid personal attacks. An argument based on merit rather than emotional attacks is respectful and more persuasive.
Call to Action. Make sure your letter calls on Congress or the public to do something. In this case, tell members of Congress to pass measures that help families and kids. In fact, mention members of Congress by name. Because many congressional offices do Internet searches each day, this increases the chance your member of Congress will see your letter. If published, be sure to fax or e-mail your letter to their offices as well.