Laser Talk: Follow-Up with a Tax Aide about Protecting Tax Credits for Working Families

This  laser talk focuses on doing follow-up calls with tax aides in your congressional offices about protecting the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC). These calls are very important. Note that this conversation will be with an aide from an office that does not necessarily support our position on the EITC and CTC so as to better prepare you for those conversations.

Ring, ring. . .

Receptionist: Good morning, Senator Jones’ office.

Volunteer: Yes, may I speak to John Smith?

Receptionist: Yes, may I tell him who’s calling?

Volunteer: Yes, my name is Jessie Baldwin. I’m a constituent of Senator Jones from New Orleans.

Receptionist: Hold, please.

Aide: This is John Smith.

Volunteer: Yes, John. My name is Jessie Baldwin. I’m a constituent from New Orleans and a RESULTS volunteer. You and I met last summer when I was in DC for the RESULTS International Conference; we did a lobby day on the Hill and met with you to talk about tax credits for working families.

Aide: Oh yeah. I think I remember that. You guys work on poverty stuff, right? We talked about the EITC.

Volunteer: Yes, good memory. I’m following up with you because there is still a lot at stake for the EITC and Child Tax Credit in the deficit reduction debate, and there’s some new data I want to share with you about the importance of these credits. Do you have a few minutes to talk?

Aide: Sure, go ahead.

Volunteer: Well, as you know, the EITC and Child Tax Credit are a financial lifeline for millions of working families around the country. Not only do they benefit people working at the minimum wage, but firefighters, policemen, teachers, child care workers, home health care professionals, and military families also benefit. These are good families just working to make a living in tough economic times and the EITC and CTC offer them the temporary support they need to climb and stay out of poverty.

Aide: The Senator certainly supports parents working to take care of their families but we’re concerned that the EITC is becoming just another handout.

Volunteer: I would respectfully disagree. It’s not a handout when you have to work to get it. And with these credits, they only increase the more you work. For example, a single mom with two children has to earn at least $13,000 (that’s 35 hours a week at the minimum wage) to get the full EITC. For the Child Tax Credit, she needs to earn at least $10,000 to get the full credit. These are not people sitting at home doing nothing. Plus, these credits primarily benefit families with children. In fact, the EITC and CTC lift more children out of poverty than any other federal programs.

Aide: I understand that, but the Senator feels that people should rely on employment for their income, not the government.

Volunteer: I wholeheartedly agree that it’s better for everyone if we’re all able to earn enough at our jobs to make ends meet. But the reality is that good paying jobs are becoming harder to find, both here in Louisiana and around the country. People want to work but if they can’t find jobs that pay enough to live on, they need help. And if Congress is unwilling to mandate a significant minimum wage increase, these credits the only thing standing between millions of families and a life of abject poverty. And we have proof. The U.S. Census recently reported that in 2011, the EITC and CTC lifted 9.4 million people out of poverty, nearly half of them children. The next most effective was SNAP, which lifted 4.7 million out of poverty. These credits are working.

Aide: Those are interesting numbers. But we’re also concerned that there’s a lot fraud in the EITC.

Volunteer: There is a problem with overpayments with the EITC, but it’s not as widespread as you might think. A few years ago, the IRS cited an error rate of between 23 and 28 percent. However, the majority of these errors were unintentional mistakes, mainly because the EITC is very complex to figure out, even for tax professionals. Plus, that statistic was based on data gathered between 2001 and 2006; the IRS has since stepped up its efforts to reduce EITC errors. Finally, the same study showed that the EITC error rate is far below the error rates for other tax provisions such as claims on business income and farm income, which had error rates of 57 and 72 percent respectively. The truth is that the vast majority of EITC recipients are ordinary folks just working hard and playing by the rules.

Aide: Thanks, Jessie. We’re probably going to disagree on some of these points but I understand what you’re saying. So tell me, what would you like the Senator to do?

Volunteer: Well, there are two things we request. First, as we discussed last year, we'd like to see recent improvements to the EITC and CTC made permanent. These are the improvements that were first enacted as part of the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and, most recently, extended for five years as a part of the "fiscal cliff" deal.  

Aide: Right.

Volunteer: These changes have helped millions of working families over the last few years. It doesn't seem fair that middle class and wealthy families saw their tax cuts made permanent in the fiscal cliff deal, but low-income, working families - families who need this boost the most - did not. If these credits had expired last year, over 231,000 Louisiana families would have seen their taxes rise dramatically. That would have put over 400,000 Louisiana children at risk of falling back or deeper into poverty.

Aide: Do you know by how much their taxes will go up?

Volunteer: I don’t have specific numbers for Louisiana families but I know that the Tax Policy Center estimates that 11 million working families would have lost an average of $854 from their Child Tax Credit, and 7 million families would have lost an average of $532 from their EITC. When you’re living at or below the poverty line, that’s a significant loss of income. While these families got a temporary reprieve, the threat still looms, along with others that are more immediate.

Aide: OK, thanks. So what is your request?

Volunteer: We'd love it if you could urge Senator Jones to talk to Senator leadership, in particular Senator Minority Leader McConnell, about making these improvements permanent. 

Aide: I will talk to him and see what he’s thinking.

Volunteer. Great. Thank you so much. As for my second request, we also want to make sure the EITC and CTC are protected in any kind of tax reform or deficit reduction plan. We know that the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committees are already meeting to discuss tax reform ideas. We also know that President Obama is still looking to reach agreement on reducing the deficit over the next decade. There’s typically been bipartisan consensus that any such efforts should not increase poverty. Previous plans, including the Bowles-Simpson from a few years ago, included specific protections for anti-poverty programs. We simply want the same protections in any framework this time around. Therefore, we also ask Senator Jones to tell Senate leadership to make sure the EITC and CTC are specifically protected from cuts in any deficit reduction or tax reform framework they come up with.

So let me repeat those two requests:

  1. Talk to Senate Finance Committee members and Senate leadership about making the EITC and CTC improvements permanent, and
  2. Urge Senate Finance Committee members and Senate leadership to protect the EITC and CTC from cuts in any tax reform or deficit reduction framework.

Does that make sense?

Aide: Yes, I got ‘em. I will relay your concerns to the Senator. I cannot guarantee that he will make these requests to Senator McConnell. As I mentioned, the Senator does have problems with some of these tax credits, so I am not sure how far he is willing to go in pushing for these extensions.

Volunteer: Is there any information I can send you that might help move him in that direction?

Aide: At this point, no. I would need to talk to him to see what he’s thinking. As you know, these fiscal cliff negotiations are very fluid.

Volunteer: I certainly understand, John. May I call you back after you’ve spoken to Senator Jones to see where things stand?

Aide: Yeah, that’s fine. Again, I cannot promise anything.

Volunteer: I know, but knowing that the Senator is again aware our concerns is a good first step. When would be a good time to call you back?

Aide: Probably sometime early next week. We have a staff meeting on Tuesday afternoon and that’s when I can bring this up to him. How about Wednesday morning at 9am, DC time?

Volunteer: That sounds great, John. I will call you then. Again, thank you so much for your time and attention to this matter. I do appreciate your service to the people of Louisiana.

Aide: Thank you, Jessie.

What Is a Laser Talk?

A laser talk serves as a useful starting point for your advocacy work, whether as a talking points during a town hall meeting or as a primer for face-to-face meetings with candidates and elected officials. Follow up with more information and evidence supporting your points. And of course, adapt a laser talk to reflect your own experiences and why you care about the issue! For more on how to create your own laser talk, see the RESULTS Activist Toolkit: Create and Deliver Your EPIC Laser Talk and see our Economic Opportunity for All campaign pages for more background on these issues.