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Reaching Out to Key Members of Congress

Offering of Letters 2010

November 2010

California: “A lot of us who are working poor are really good people. Sometimes people assume they don’t know anyone in our situation, but we’re out here,” said Janeen Breyman of First United Methodist Church in Napa, CA.

Indiana: “[Rep. Baron Hill (D-IN)’s aide] agreed with us that the deficit should not be used as a reason to harm poor people,” said Father Marty Peter of St. Bartholomew’s Catholic Church, convenor of the Bread for the World group in Columbus, IN.

Breyman and Father Marty were part of Bread’s special efforts this summer and fall to communicate with key members of Congress about the importance of protecting and strengthening tax credits that help low-income working families—the focus of this year’s Offering of Letters. As Bread goes to press, Congress had not yet finished work on the tax package that includes the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC). It was unclear when the legislation would be finalized.

In their meetings, Bread activists appealed both to the representatives’ sense of fairness and their sense of math. If Congress fails to preserve the CTC at its current level, for example, a parent working full-time for minimum wage would receive only a $320 credit instead of the current $1,800 credit. The difference—less than $1,500—makes a big difference to a minimum-wage worker.

When Breyman told a friend at her church that she benefits from both the EITC and the CTC, the two realized that she could put a human face on the issue, making her a valuable advocate. They, along with Breyman’s 11-year-old daughter Emilia, joined other local activists in a meeting at Rep. Mike Thompson’s (D-CA) district office.

“I was able to give the aide we saw some specific examples of why these credits are important to people who work but don’t earn a lot of money,” Breyman said. “For example, I used part of my EITC refund to pay for dental procedures that my older daughter needed. She had exceeded the annual limit on what her dental insurance would pay.”

Activists who scheduled recent visits emphasized how important it is to build continuing relationships with representatives’ offices. Mark Dunlea of Rensselaer County, NY, talked with his member of Congress, Rep. Scott Murphy (D-NY), at the local Solidarity Labor Day picnic. Members of Bread’s Mid-Coast Maine group hand-delivered letters from St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, one of the largest churches in Brunswick, ME, when they requested an appointment with the office of Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME).

Breyman said, “Now we can email Brian, the aide, and he knows who we are.” As a low-income advocate, Breyman found her lobbying experience especially encouraging. “Mostly I’ve felt like I have no voice,” she recalled. “So this has really impacted me. I realized that I do have something to say and I can participate.”

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