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Bread Advocates Push Congress on Lobby Day

Helping hungry people

July 2010

More than 250 Bread advocates from around the country descended on Capitol Hill for Bread’s Lobby Day to talk with their senators and representatives about tax credits that help low-income working families. During visits on June 15, they urged their legislators to protect and strengthen the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit.

A friend’s words kept Bethany Rigney, of Hattiesburg, MS, focused on the day’s task. During Lobby Day’s opening worship, Rigney texted her friend Bre, a student who supports herself, partially supports her mother and sister, and qualifies for the EITC and Child Tax Credit. Rigney wanted her to know that she and others were advocating for these tax credits in visits with their representatives.

“I am about to meet with Rep. Gene Taylor and the staffs of both our senators,” Rigney wrote. “How did the EITC help you? Or did it help you?”

Bre wrote back later that day. “It saved me financially. It provided grocery money for the whole family for a month, paid for [my daughter’s] X-rays, and some doctor’s bills for me. It was an absolute godsend.”

“Unless Congress extends these credits, they will expire this year,” Rigney replied. “This is what I’m asking of Gene Taylor—to make these credits permanent.”

“That would truly be great,” Bre wrote. “It’s so wonderful that you’re doing what you’re doing. Go get ‘em!”

Rigney, a member of Bread’s 2010 class of Hunger Justice Leaders, participated in Lobby Day as well as three days of advocacy training. She and her 75 classmates attended workshops on everything from basic hunger facts to learning how to lead advocacy efforts in their home communities.

For Montague Williams, a Hunger Justice Leader who attends a Nazarene church in Quincy, MA, workshops on the EITC were eye-opening. After hearing about who is eligible for the tax credit, he realized many people in his congregation likely qualify.

“We should reach out to them,” he said. “That’s what I’m here to do—to really learn how to be a good neighbor.”

Nick Tejeda, a Hunger Justice Leader from Deerfield, IL, brought his family’s personal experience to bear on Lobby Day. “I grew up with a single mom and no dad. We were the recipients of EITC, WIC [the Women, Infants and Children Program], and food stamps,” he shared during the day’s closing worship. “My story would be impossible without the EITC.”

Olajumoke (“Jumi”) Olawale’s Lobby Day experience, as well as the training she received as a Hunger Justice Leader, solidified the calling she feels to mobilize the Nigerian, Somali, and Ghanaian communities in her Columbus, OH, neighborhood.

“In many communities in Africa, you can’t be involved in politics because it’s too dangerous. Here, you can,” she said. This second-year seminary student and mother of a 3-year-old hopes to educate community members about hunger in their neighborhoods, but also how they can mobilize people in their native countries on these issues.

“This is what I think about when I go to bed, and when I wake up,” she said. “I feel God is calling me to this, and Bread is helping me put it all together. This experience has been great for helping me flesh this out.”

Whether advocates are new, like many of Bread’s Hunger Justice Leaders, or seasoned, such as longtime Bread activists Barbara and Bud Miller—who have attended Lobby Day for more than 20 years—the issues that affect hungry and poor people require us to speak up, to find and use our voices.

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) reminded Bread advocates of this prior to their Capitol Hill visits. “Many people think they’re powerless, but they’re not,” he said. “You are a voter. You have one vote. My mother used to say, ‘If you don’t ask, you don’t get.’ That’s what you’re doing—you’re asking for something humane, that we do what we can for the people at the bottom.”

That summed up the experience of Justice Schunior of Alexandria, VA, a first-time Lobby Day participant. “Lobbying makes me feel more connected to my government; it strengthens my resolve to work on these issues,” she said. “For people who can’t take a day off work, I can be their voice.”

Lobby Day culminated in a reception on Capitol Hill, during which Bread recognized several legislators for their efforts to help hungry and poor people. One was Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL), who spoke about the importance of advocacy work. “Helping hungry people is the highest calling we have in public service,” he said.

In addition to Rep. Jackson, Bread honored Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO), Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), and Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN).

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