June 2010 U.S. Poverty Action

Set Up Face-to-Face Meetings with Members of Congress

Discuss the Importance of the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit for Low-Income Working Families with Senators and Representatives

In your meeting with members of Congress and their staff, be sure to highlight the following:

  1. Tell them that RESULTS groups across the country are lobbying Congress to expand Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC). These low-income tax credits are helping keep millions of Americans out of poverty, including millions of children.
  2. Explain that these tax credits are vital for low-income families — they encourage work, promote responsibility, and effectively keep millions of people, many of them children, out of poverty.
  3. Use a story from your VITA outreach in May to illustrate how these tax credits are helping people in your home state and/or congressional district. Supplement that information with any data you obtained from your VITA site coordinator on how much EITC and CTC money the VITA programs generates in your community; money that is often spent immediately thus creating important economic activity.
  4. Remind your member of Congress that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 expanded the EITC and CTC, which has helped 7 million low-income Americans.  Only earnings higher than about $12,850 would count if improvements in the Child Tax Credit made since 2001 are allowed to expire (in 2009 and 2010, the threshold is $3,000).
  5. If your VITA coordinator provided stories or data on how much benefit these changes have created, please share it or give a general example: a family with two children working full-time at the minimum wage currently receives a Child Tax Credit of about $1,750. If Congress does not act to extend the current levels, the same family will receive only $250, a loss of $1,500.
  6. Tell him/her that parents who work full time should be able to support their families and stay out of poverty. The EITC and CTC policies in place help parents who are willing to work hard to achieve a basic standard of living. Assert that these policies are pro-work, and pro-parental responsibility.
  7. Ask your member of Congress if he/she will tell leadership (House: Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Hoyer, and Representatives Levin and Camp of the Ways and Means Committee; Senate: Majority Leader Reid and Senators Baucus and Grassley of the Senate Finance Committee) to make sure that the 2009 ARRA provisions on the EITC and CTC are made permanent before they expire at the end of 2010.
  8. Thank them for their time and plan to follow up within a few days to find out what House and Senate leadership said. [You can find out the names of these aides on our Elected Officials page of the RESULTS website. Just pull up each member of Congress and click on the “Staff” tab above his/her picture.]

Building the Momentum for Change by Getting Face-to-Face

Over the last several months, we have taken several difference actions around protecting and expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC). In April, we wrote letters to members of Congress urging them to make the 2009 expansions of the EITC and CTC permanent, and followed up with phone calls to congressional tax aides. In May, we shifted to a local focus by reaching out to Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) coordinators to learn more about how the EITC and CTC are benefitting people in our own communities. Now it is time to take our work to the next level and talk directly with decision-makers about the importance of these credits.

Meeting face-to-face with members of Congress is key to developing the relationships we need to influence policy. Congressional offices hear from all kinds of constituencies on many different issues. However, most advocates do not take the time to set up in-person meetings with their members of Congress to discuss their positions. This is what makes RESULTS unique in its advocacy. When face-to-face meetings happen, for that moment, your issue is at the top of the list. This is how policy is made and changed — persistent, targeted action that gets your legislators’ attention.

You now have the tools to make the case for economic opportunity with your members of Congress. You know the policy requests and you have the local data and stories to back it up. Now make the best use of that information by scheduling face-to-face meetings with your members of Congress to discuss it. If you are attending the RESULTS International Conference in Washington DC, June 20-22, please make sure to schedule face-to-face meetings with members of Congress during the conference (Lobby Day is June 22). In addition, plan to visit as many members of your congressional delegation as possible. Most offices are willing to meet with people from their home state, even if they are from another congressional district. If you are not attending the conference, request a face-to-face meeting with your representative and senators when they are back at home. Many members of Congress travel back to their home states on weekends. Also, Congress will be on recess July 5-9 for the July 4 recess. Finally, many members of Congress (especially in an election year like this one) hold public meetings or town halls when they are back home. While a sit down face-to-face meeting is preferable, asking them questions at public appearances and getting them on the record on our issues is a good alternative.

Top Tips on Having a Good Face-to-Face Meeting

Once you have scheduled your meeting, here are a few tips on making the most of your meeting:

  • Plan your meeting ahead of time. In a face-to-face meeting, you want to make sure you use your time effectively. Get with your group and plan who will manage the meeting, decide what issues you want to cover, what role each person has in the meeting, how much time you’ll spend on each item, and who will take notes. Ironing out these details before the meeting will help you manage your time well and also give the impression of professionalism and commitment. Use our 2010 Lobby Planning and Report Form to help with your planning.
  • Keep the agenda simple. Try to limit your discussion at the meeting to 1-2 primary issues (3 at the most). Covering too many things at one meeting can confuse both sides and also dilute your message. Focus on the most pressing issues, or the issues this legislator can have the most impact upon. For additional issues, plan to leave behind a one to two page summary of those issues and your requests.
  • 50/50 Rule: Talk AND Listen. Face-to-face meetings are a means to developing deeper relationships with your members of Congress and their staff. Therefore, they are most effective when they are a dialogue between your group and the legislator. Simply talking at them accomplishes little. Plan to make the meeting a conversation; ask questions, share stories, and respond to what they are saying. Remember the 50/50 rule: when meeting, don’t talk more than fifty percent of the time.
  • Questions and Objections are Good Things. Rarely do members of Congress agree with everything you request in a meeting. Many times, they will have questions or objections to your positions. Do not be intimidated by these. They are opportunities to learn and better understand where your representative or senator is coming from. If your representative or senator does not support your position, ask for details of their objections. The more you learn about their positions, the more prepared you’ll be to follow up with their office.
  • Remember the Goal. The goal of your meeting is to make your member of Congress a champion on your issue. However, different policymakers have different priorities, so making them a champion may not happen in one meeting. Therefore, you want to know where they are and the steps necessary to get them where you want them to be. RESULTS’ Champion Scale can help you assess and strategize the best ways to move your members of Congress to where you want them to be.
  • Follow-up. Following up with congressional offices after a meeting is crucial. If you don’t follow up, it is almost not worth the time to do the meeting. Follow-up gives you the opportunity to make your case again, perhaps in an even more informed way. By taking the information you learned from your meeting and using that to address concerns and hit home your request, you reinforce your message and further strengthen a working relationship with your congressional offices. And of course, first and foremost, follow up should include a thank you for the meeting.

For a complete step-by-step process for scheduling, planning and executing an effect face-to-face meeting, see our Activist Milestone: Meeting Face-to-Face with Your Member of Congress. In addition, if you are attending a town hall meeting or public event, see our Activist Milestone: Ask a Question at a Town Hall Event for tips on how to make the most of that experience. Also RESULTS staff hosted two special training calls last month for anyone traveling to the International Conference this year or if you are preparing for a congressional meeting back home — just click on the following links to listen: Lobby 101 training call; Researching Your Members of Congress training call. And please join us on June 9 at 9 pm ET for another training: Lobbying 101 — Making Your Trip to DC Powerful Even if You are New to Advocacy. Call in number: (712) 432-3100, passcode: 761262.

Getting to Congress before Consideration of Tax Legislation in July

Most likely, these 2009 EITC and CTC expansions will be included in a larger tax package addressing the expiring Bush 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. Many expect this tax package to come up in July, making meetings in June with members of Congress all that more important.

Dividing lines are already being drawn on how to deal with the expiring Bush tax cuts. President Obama and most members of Congress want to see tax cuts for low-income and middle class families extended (individuals earning less than $200,000) per year. The rift is what to do with tax cuts for those at the top. Most Republicans and some conservative Democrats want to see tax cuts for the wealthy extended too. With millions of Americans out of work and millions more in poverty, another tax cut for the rich is that last thing Congress should be thinking about. In your meetings, tell your representatives and senators that delay is not an option — these low-income provisions must be made permanent this year.

We will discuss low-income tax credits and face-to-face meetings on the June 2010 National Conference Call — Saturday, June 12 at 12:30 pm ET. To participate, call (888) 409-6709 with your group by 12:28 pm ET.