August 2018 U.S. Poverty Action

July 31, 2018

Shape the Election Debate with Candidate Questions about Poverty

Meeting face-to-face is the most effective action you can take to influence your members of Congress. If you have already submitted a request for a meeting during the summer recess, contact the scheduler to follow up on your request. However, members of Congress and candidates are also doing public events to woo voters. Help make ending poverty an issue in this election by attending these events to asking a question about poverty in the U.S.

How to Make the Most of Town Halls and Candidate Appearances

  1. Find an event to attend. Look at member of Congress and candidate websites, your local newspaper, the local news, and the internet for upcoming events in your area. You can also look on for events (but it is not exhaustive).
  2. Research members of Congress and candidates. Learn about current members of Congress at You can also Google candidate names and our issues (e.g. Mitch McConnell SNAP).
  3. Go in a group. Increase the chance of getting your questions asked by having others attend the event with you, each with a question to ask.
  4. Get to the event early and spread out. Getting there early and sit near the front, where you are more visible. If you’re in a group, spread out around the room to increase the chances of getting called on. If they only take written questions, have everyone in your group write down a similar question.
  5. Raise your hand FIRST, FAST, and HIGH when it’s time for questions.
  6. Ask your question to inform, not speechify. Ask a direct but concise question that informs the audience. If your question is not answered, politely repeat it asking for an appropriate response.
  7. Maximize your impact after the meeting:
    • Work the rope line: Find the exit where your member of Congress or candidate will leave to introduce yourselves and follow up, or ask an unasked question.
    • Work the staff: Find their staff and introduce yourself and your issue. Give them your contact information and any additional material you brought with you.
    • Work the media: Find the media to share about information about your issues.
  8. Send a written follow-up. Send a follow up email or letter to the member of Congress or candidate and the staff person. Remind them that you were at the event and recap your issue and request. If you were not able to ask your question at the event, contact the appropriate staff person to provide information and your request.

The key to a successful town hall experience is asking a powerful question. Below are examples of questions you could ask candidates at town halls this month based on our slightly longer laser talks. We encourage you to personalize questions with stories and local data; the questions below can get you started. Also, if you plan to attend a town hall or candidate event, or secure a face-to-face meeting, please contact Meredith Dodson ([email protected], except August 4-19) or Jos Linn ([email protected]) to get coaching on how best to prepare.

Town Hall Question: Protect SNAP

Many families in our community struggle to put food on the table, and I’m concerned about the House’s partisan Farm Bill which would take food assistance away from 2 million Americans. Rather than taking food away from people looking for work, I urge you to protect and strengthen nutrition assistance. (Briefly mention your own experience and/or why you care about this issue). 

Request for current member of Congress: Will you tell congressional leaders you oppose any harmful changes or cuts to SNAP and other anti-poverty programs, and that you want the final farm bill to include the Senate’s common sense, bipartisan SNAP policies and protections?

Request for candidate: If elected, will you work to strengthen SNAP and oppose efforts to take food and other basic assistance away from working families?

Town Hall Question: Housing and Closing Racial Wealth Divide

I am deeply concerned about wealth inequality in the United States. Sadly, government policies over our country’s history have worsened inequality and created a staggering racial wealth divide. For example, median wealth for white families is 10 times greater than African American families and eight times greater than Hispanic families. Once way to help is by increasing homeownership and access to affordable rental housing. What are your priorities when it comes to increasing access to affordable housing, especially for communities of color? What are your thoughts increasing the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit or Housing Choice Mobility Vouchers? If elected, will you work to enact innovative solutions to reduce racial wealth inequality? 

Town Hall Question: Focus Tax Policy on Working Families

As an anti-poverty advocate, I’m concerned about the impact of Congress’s recent tax legislation. We’re already seeing higher budget deficits from the 2017 tax law and, as a result, Congress is threatening investments in basic health, nutrition, and education assistance programs. Unpaid-for tax cuts also widen the gap between the wealthy and those struggling to make ends meet. Now Congress is talking about new tax cuts that again would primarily benefit those at the top. Will you oppose any tax legislation that increases the federal budget deficit and threatens programs like Medicaid and SNAP? Instead, will you focus on effective tax policy that helps working Americans, such as expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit?

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