March 2012 U.S. Poverty Laser Talk (“Dear Colleague” Letter)

Call House Aides about the Kildee "Dear Colleague" Letter on Head Start and Child Care

One way to build support for an issue in Congress is through a “Dear Colleague” letter. This is a letter from one or more lawmakers to their colleagues in Congress asking them to sign on in support of a specific position on a particular issue. It is then sent to key decision-makers in Congress on that issue. For example, in March 2012, Rep. Dale Kildee (D-MI-5) and Rep. Tood Platts (R-PA-19) are circulating a bipartisan letter urging House appropriators to support adequate funding for Head Start, Early Head Start and the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) in the FY 2013 budget. They are looking for as many co-signers as possible before the March 14 deadline. It will then be sent to House Labor-HHS Subcommittee Chair Denny Rehberg (R-MT-AL) and Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-3).

To secure co-signers to the letter, constituents can call their congressional offices and urge them to sign on. Below is a sample conversation with a congressional aide about signing onto the Kildee-Platts "Dear Colleague" letter.

Receptionist: Good morning, Congressman Carnahan’s office. How may I help you?

RESULTS Volunteer: May I speak to the aide that handles the child and family issues, please?

Aide: Certainly, please hold. Good morning this is Jos.

RESULTS Volunteer: Hello. My name is Susan Kelley and I am constituent of Congressman Carnahan's from St. Louis and also a RESULTS volunteer. I am calling to talk to you about funding for early childhood programs. Do you have a few minutes to talk?

Aide: Yes, go right ahead.

RESULTS Volunteer: First, let me ask, are you familiar with RESULTS?

Aide: No, I’m sorry I’m not.

RESULTS Volunteer: RESULTS is a national grassroots advocacy organization working to end poverty. We have volunteers around the country, including here in St. Louis, who meet monthly to take action on practical solutions to poverty. One of those solutions is early childhood education through programs like Head Start, Early Head Start, and the Child Care Development Block Grant or CCDBG. I am sure you already know that studies show that investing in early learning programs like these is one of the smartest investments we can make as a country. Are you familiar with James Heckman?

Aide: Again, sorry no.

RESULTS Volunteer: He is a Nobel Prize winning economist from the University of Chicago who has done extensive studies on the economics of human potential. He has found that investing in quality early childhood programs can create a 10 percent rate of return on society’s investment. This return comes through lower crime rates, better school outcomes, better health outcomes, and better skilled workers. Quite simply, investing in early childhood development is not only the right thing to do, it’s good economics.

He also notes that targeting disadvantaged children gets us the most bang for the buck. That’s where Head Start and child care come in. How familiar are you with Head Start and child care programs?

Aide: Somewhat – I did a little volunteer work at a Head Start program in college and just met with some child care providers here in DC.

RESULTS Volunteer: Great! What's so saddening to me is that these programs are chronically underfunded. As you may know, less than half of all eligible children can access Head Start, 3.5 percent can get into Early Head Start and only 1 in 7 families can get assistance with child care. On top of that, some Congress is relentlessly targeting these programs for cuts.

Aide: Are there specific funding levels you are requesting?

RESULTS Volunteer: While we would love to see Head Start and child care expanded so all eligible children could participate, we know that in this budget environment, that’s not going to happen right now. However, the one thing we can do is make sure we maintain existing service levels and take small steps to expand services for the millions of children now in poverty since the recession. For this year, that means increasing Head Start and Early Head Start funding by $325 million and increasing funding for the Child Care Development Block Grant by $825 million in FY 2013.

Aide: Honestly, it's tough for us to justify supporting a funding increase in this environment.

RESULTS Volunteer: That's why I think the work of Professor Heckman is so important – it points out what a great return on investment these early childhood programs are. When you tell taxpayers that high-quality early childhood programs give a 10 percent rate of return every single year while creating jobs and opportunity for the next generation, I think you'll find voters will strongly support you taking a stand on this. And we are educating folks here back home at local events and in the media about what a difference these programs make.

Aide: What specifically do you want Congressman Carnahan to do?

RESULTS Volunteer: Well, Rep. Kildee from Michigan and Rep. Tood Platts from Pennsylvania are circulating a bipartisan "Dear Colleague" letter urging appropriators to support these funding levels. We would ask that Congressman Carnahan sign the letter as a show of support to House leadership and urge others to as well. In addition, we would urge him to weigh in regularly with appropriators about the importance of early childhood investments and to support robust funding levels for Head Start, Early Head Start, and CCDBG. Will you speak to the Congressman about signing onto the letter and supporting these investments?

Aide: If you’ll send me a copy of the letter, I’ll look it over.

RESULTS Volunteer: Great! Thank you so much for your help. The letter closes on Wednesday, March 14, so I hope you can talk to your boss about this today. I will e-mail you the letter when we hang up, as well as the contact in Rep. Kildee’s office, in case you have any questions. What is your e-mail address?

Aide: [email protected]

RESULTS Volunteer: May I follow up with you after you’ve had time to review the information and talk to the Congressman?

Aide: That would be fine.

RESULTS Volunteer: Since the deadline is this Wednesday, may I call you Tuesday at 10am ET?

Aide: Yes, that should work.

RESULTS Volunteer: Thank you, Jos. I really appreciate your time. I look forward to talking to you on Tuesday. And please give our thanks to Congressman Carnahan for his continued support for low-income working families.

Aide: You bet. Thank you.