When Errolyn Gray got up to share her family’s story at the 2014 RESULTS International Conference, her message was simple:
“This is not a story that calls for sympathy. This is a story that calls for action.”
Errolyn’s mother worked full time for her entire life, but in a low-paying job that barely covered the bills. When an accident put her mom temporarily out of work, the family had nothing to fall back on: no savings, no financial cushion.
As Errolyn reminded the room that day, her mother’s story is just one of many like it. One in seven Americans lives below the poverty line. Millions more spend their lives teetering on the edge of poverty. And that’s why Errolyn became an advocate: to use her voice to make sure our country’s policies serve as a bridge — not a hurdle — for hardworking families to move out of poverty.
At the conference, she called her fellow advocates to acton on the Earned Income Tax Credit. This refundable credit has been celebrated by everyone from Representative Paul Ryan to President Barack Obama for its ability to lift people above the poverty line, decrease unemployment, and stimulate local economies. But Congress must renew key provisions of the credit that are set to expire — or risk 16 million people falling into poverty or deeper into poverty.
That day Errolyn visited the offices of both her senators and her representative. She reminded them that their decisions about things like the Earned Income Tax Credit have real, personal consequences for millions of families like hers. Together with the Child Tax Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit successfully moves more families out of poverty than any program other than Social Security.
Errolyn came to Capitol Hill from her home in Mississippi as part of the REAL Change Fellowship, a year-long advocacy training program for young adults run by RESULTS and RESULTS Educational Fund. Through 12 months of training, REAL Change fellows work with the media, build relationships with members of Congress, and mobilize their communities.
Congress has until 2017 to renew the important provisions of the Earned Income Tax Credit. REAL Change Fellows and the broader network of RESULTS advocates are making sure Congress hears from people across the country through powerful face-to-face lobbying meetings in DC and back home. Their voices are helping cement economic mobility as a bipartisan priority. In 2014, RESULTS volunteers secured more face-to-face meetings with their representatives and senators than ever in our history. REAL Change fellows alone secured nearly 200 meetings with members of Congress and their staff.
By year end, Errolyn and many of her REAL Change peers were already planning their next visits to DC, keeping the pressure on Congress to support the Earned Income Tax Credit and a full set of policies that put low-income working families first. Together they’re becoming leaders for the next generation of advocates, ready to use their voices for years to come.