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August 2012 U.S. Poverty Action

Make the Most of the August Recess to Protect 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. Below we outline two effective ways to do so -- scheduling face-to-face meetings and going to town halls or candidate events. Only have a few minutes and want to weigh in? Use our online alert to send a quick (personalized is better!) e-mail to your senators and representative to protect tax credits for low-income working families.

Step One: Request a Face-to-Face Lobby Visits

Congressional staff report that face-to-face lobby meetings have the biggest impact of any advocacy strategy on members of Congress. Work with other local RESULTS advocates to submit a formal request for a meeting (our website has a template you can use), and here is a basic script you can use to follow up 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 group working to end hunger and poverty. RESULTS has a proven track record of working with legislators from all backgrounds to support smart and cost-effective policies to break the cycle of 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 this month. 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 tax policies, including the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, which break the cycle of poverty and investments in early childhood development programs. What times would he be available to meet?

Once you get a meeting or confirm that you will be able to raise an issue at an event (see below), please touch base with RESULTS staff for the latest strategies and messaging insight for your specific policymakers. Then use our Activist Milestone: Meet Face-to-Face with Your Member of Congress and U.S. Poverty 2012 Lobby Meeting Planning Worksheet to plan as a group.

Step Two: Make the Most of Town Halls and Candidate Appearances

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! 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:

a.     Traditional town hall meetings. Many members of Congress also do these by phone.

b.     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!

c.     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.

d.     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.

e.     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 blow over. Simply repeat your question asking for an appropriate response.

a.     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.

7.     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.

8.     Maximize your impact after the meeting. A few strategies:

a.     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.

b.    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.

c.     Work the media: Find the media to share your issues, whether they were covered or not during the meeting.

9.     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.

10.  Share Information: Share what your learned to your group and network. Give them these tips and anything else you learned from your experience

11.  Persistence pays off: Keep following up until you get a response to your question or request!

Your Voice Needed to Protect the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit

Congress voted on several tax packages in recent weeks, but final decisions on expiring tax provisions including the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) for low-income working families will not take place until after the election. It is critical that policymakers hear about these policies now, since negotiations will be challenging to influence in those few short weeks after the election. Here is a sample laser talk you can tailor for lobby meetings and town hall events:   

Engage:. Do you know what Ronald Reagan called the Earned Income Tax Credit “the best anti-poverty, the best pro-family, the best job-creation measure to come out of Congress”?

Problem: However, if Congress fails to extend expiring improvements to the EITC and the Child Tax Credit by the end of this year, 26 million children in working families will be at risk of falling into poverty.

Inform: The EITC and CTC reward the hard work of firefighters, policemen, teachers, child care workers, and home health care professionals, just to name a few. These families spend their credits quickly and locally, thus benefitting local business and the economy. Improvements to these credits over the last ten years have made them even more effective. In 2010, the EITC and CTC lifted 9.2 million Americans out of poverty, more than half of them children. But if Congress doesn’t act, these changes will expire in December, causing _______ working families in our state (see our state-by-state data) to see their taxes increase by nearly $850. [Include stories if you can!]

Call to Action: Will you speak directly to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp and Ranking Member Sander Levin/Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus and Ranking Member Orrin Hatch, urging them to support low-income working families by making expiring improvements to the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit permanent and protect the EITC and CTC from cuts in any deficit reduction deal?

Additional request during follow up: In addition, please cosponsor Family Financial Security Credit when it is re-introduced, and send a letter to these tax committee leaders urging them to include the innovative low-income savings policies like the Family Financial Security Credit in any major tax reform legislation Congress takes up.

For more on how to create your own laser talk, see the RESULTS Activist Toolkit: Create and Deliver Your EPIC Laser Talk.

We will discuss these strategies and the larger fight for tax fairness on the RESULTS August 2012 National Conference Call — Saturday, August 11, 2012 at 12:30 pm ET. To participate, call (888) 409-6709 with your group by 12:28 pm ET.