September 2012 U.S. Poverty Action

September 4, 2012

Use Poverty Data Release to Generate Media Protecting Low-Income Americans from Harmful Budget Cuts

On September 12, the U.S. Census released its annual poverty data report for 2011. The report includes poverty rates for adults and children in the U.S., average income levels, and health insurance coverage among the U.S. population. The report is a wealth of information and great opportunity to get media coverage on issues of poverty, especially with so much at stake for low-income families this year. This month’s action focuses on using the Census poverty report to get letters to the editor, op-eds, and editorials published in your local paper highlighting the need to protect and strengthen anti-poverty programs, especially tax credits for low-income working families.

Submit an Op-Ed or Letter to the Editor to Your Local Paper Highlighting Poverty in America

  1. Read the U.S. Census report on Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2011 to find helpful statistics for your media piece, and be sure to reference state poverty data.  
  2. Respond to coverage of the Census data, using the 2011 poverty numbers to highlight the importance of anti-poverty programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC). The Census Bureau estimates that EITC lifted 5.7 million Americans out of poverty last year. 
  3. Highlight that if improvements to the EITC and CTC that are set to expire in December are not extended, millions of children and their families could fall into poverty, thus making the situation worse. You can highlight how many families in your state are at risk of losing these critical tax credits using our state-by-state data and fact sheets, which includes information from a July report from Citizens for Tax Justice
  4. Tell readers the poverty data reminds us that choices in Washington have consequences here at home. It is disgraceful to raise taxes on firefighters, teachers, police officers, child care workers, and military families — families who benefit from the EITC and CTC —while showering more tax cuts on millionaires and billionaires who don’t need them.
  5. Urge your senators and representative by name to make reducing poverty in America a priority. Tell them to protect working families by making the expiring EITC and CTC provisions permanent.

Note: To find contact information for media outlets in your area, including telephone numbers and addresses, visit our Media Guide at In addition, see our Activist Toolkit pieces on writing a letter to the editor and generating an op-ed. Be sure to send your published piece to your members of Congress!

Tips on Generating a Letter to the Editor – Remember Your C’s

Be CURRENT. The Census data release gives you the perfect opportunity to be current. It is likely your paper will have some coverage about the release, which you can then respond to in your letter. Another trick for being current is to respond when something is NOT in your paper, e.g. “I am disappointed that our paper didn’t cover the fact that 46 million Americans lived in poverty last year, according to a new report by the U.S. Census.”

CONSTRUCT Your Letter. Create your letter using the EPIC format (Engage the listener, state the Problem, Inform about a solution, give a Call to action). Be sure to check the Letter to the Editor page of your newspaper or its website for the guidelines and logistics for submitting a letter. Most times you can create a draft on your computer then copy and paste it into an online web form. Also, be obvious in the subject line that your letter is in reaction to a story or piece printed in the newspaper about the Census data (or lack thereof). Reference the article, date of publication and page number in the newspaper (i.e. RE: “New Data Shows Increase in Poverty, Less Uninsured” article, September 13, 2012, p. A5).

Be CLEAR and CONCISE. . The shorter the letter, the more likely it will be published. Most papers will not print letters that are more than 200-250 words and some limit them to 150 words. Stick to one subject and check your grammar. After you have written your letter, read it aloud. Ask yourself: Is my point clear? Is my letter compelling? Can I shorten it and still get my point across? See our Media Hooks and Framing page for tips on how to word your letter.

CONNECT the Dots. Connect the dots between your community and the released poverty data. Have you benefitted from anti-poverty program or know others that have? Share why poverty matters to you and the impact that programs like EITC and Head Start have on your local community.

Be CHALLENGING. Feel free to question what others have said or done, i.e. calling out members of Congress who voted for the House Budget or the Senate cuts to SNAP, and even start your letter off with a feisty first sentence. However, be sure to avoid personal attacks. An argument based on merit rather than emotional attacks is respectful and more persuasive. It is certainly appropriate to mention members of Congress by name, whether criticizing or thanking them). Remember that many congressional offices do internet searches by name each morning. This increases the chance your member of Congress will see your letter.

CALL to Action. Many advocates miss this crucial step. Making a reasoned, eloquent argument for a specific position must be accompanied by a concrete, specific action step. Articulate your passion for the issue and then ask them to make a difference. If you are asking readers to take action, tell them what to do (i.e. ”call your members of Congress and tell them to X, Y, Z”). If you want your legislators to act, say it (“ I urge Rep. Jones to make the EITC and CTC improvements permanent).

COORDINATE Your Efforts. Have as many people in your group send in letters to the editor at the same time to maximize your odds of getting published and to emphasize the importance of the issue. Whether they print your letters or not, you are letting the paper know what issues the community cares about. Once your group’s letters gets published, send it out to your networks and again urge others to write in (they can even respond to your letter!). Also send a copy to your members of Congress so they know that you are paying attention to what they do and are not afraid to speak out about it.

Sample Letter: The EITC and CTC Reduce Poverty

Number of Americans and children lifted above poverty line by EITC and CTC

I am pleased the paper covered the release of the U.S. Census’ annual poverty report this week. The report shows that in 2011, 46 million Americans lived in poverty, including more than one in four children under age five. It is tragedy that in a country as blessed and as wealthy as ours, nearly 1 in 7 of our fellow Americans struggle to put food on the table and a roof over their heads.

Fortunately, we have tools to make things better. The Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit are very effective at poverty-reduction. In 2010, these credits lifted 9.2 million people out of poverty, more than half of them children. Firemen, police offices, teachers, even military personnel benefit from these credits, which have until recently enjoyed broad bipartisan support. Unfortunately, key improvements to these credits will expire in December and if House leadership get its way, these credits would see even deeper cuts (while millionaires and billionaires get more tax cuts). The result is simple — more children and families in poverty.

I urge Rep. ________ and Sens. _________ and _________ to put working families first. Don’t raise taxes on the poor and middle class — protect and extend the current EITC and CTC. 

Magnify Your Impact with an Op-ed or Editorial

Although letters to the editor (LTEs) are important and effective ways to educate lawmakers and the public on our issues, op-eds and editorials can have an even bigger media impact. These pieces provide you more room to discuss the issue and make a stronger case for protecting low-income Americans. Unfortunately, few people choose to take advantage of this opportunity (opting instead to do LTEs). For years, RESULTS has prided itself on getting frequent op-eds and editorials published around the country. The process does require a little more time and effort than your typical LTE, but the reward is much greater as well. Think of the impact you’ll have with a 600 word op-ed on poverty in America or having your paper endorse protecting the EITC and CTC in an editorial. RESULTS staff can help you make that happen.

If you are interested in submitting an op-ed or asking your paper to write an editorial on the poverty data, please contact the RESULTS staff for assistance. We can provide you with coaching, advice, and resources to help you write your op-ed or pitch an editorial idea to your local paper. In some cases, our staff may contact you about doing an op-ed or editorial because you have an established relationship with a local paper or live in a key congressional district. For questions and assistance, please contact Meredith Dodson ([email protected]) or Jos Linn ([email protected]).

For More Helpful Tips, Use Upcoming Census Data Training Resources

CHN Census Data Webinar on September 6, 2:00 pm ET. Our friends at the Coalition on Human Needs are hosting a webinar on using the new census data. Speakers will show you how to find national and state data quickly; in fact, fast enough so you can make same-day comments to the press. The webinar is Thursday, September 6, 2 pm ET. You can register for the webinar at the CHN website.

RESULTS National Conference Call on September 8, 12:30 pm ET. On our September monthly national conference call, we will review this month’s action with insights from experts on how to best use the poverty data to build media support for strong public policy that supports low-income Americans with guest speaker Debbie Weinstein from the Coalition on Human Needs. The call is Saturday, September 8 at 12:30 pm ET. The call-in number is (888) 409-6709.

RESULTS Media Training Call on September 12, 9:00 pm ET. To help you be successful in generating media around the poverty data release, the RESULTS U.S. Poverty Team is hosting a media training call. The call will include a brief overview of the Census data and important tips and tools you can use to get letters to the editor, op-eds and editorials published highlighting the data and the need to protect anti-poverty services. The call is Wednesday, September 12 at 9:00 pm ET. Dial (866) 503-7713, passcode 4091413579 to participate.


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