2012 Offering of Letters Strategy: Set the Facts Straight
Hunger is a no-brainer. I’d be willing to bet that the majority of Americans believe no child should go to bed hungry. So then why is it the case that nearly one-in-four children go hungry in the United States?
I’m convinced that the reason so many members of Congress are currently proposing to cut programs like SNAP by more than $33 billion is because Americans and their Representatives don’t know enough about these life-saving programs. Instead, they’ve bought into the myths. We’ve all heard the myths: “SNAP is full of fraud," or, “Funding for foreign assistance contributed to our national deficit.” These false statements are spreading like wildfire at a time when Congress is desperate to find places to cut in the budget. So, one really effective tool for expanding the circle of protection? Set people’s facts straight.
As activists it’s our job to dispel the myths and spread the truth about programs for poor and hungry people. As you engage your local churches, campuses, and communities on speaking up to protect these programs, one of the most effective approaches you can take is to spread awareness that these programs are doing a lot to end hunger.
Take the Tax Credit Mini Campaign, for example. These tax credits lift millions of people out of poverty each year. Yet some people hear “tax credits” and automatically think the worst.
Myth #1: “Tax credits have nothing to do with ending hunger.”
Ending hunger depends on increasing income for families who struggle to cover their household expenses. The tax system can help do just that. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is an efficient, proven, well-targeted way to add resources for low-income working families.
Myth #2: “Taxes are too partisan a topic to be talking about. Tax credit programs will just create more partisan division in Congress.”
The EITC and CTC have a long history of bipartisan support. The EITC was enacted under President Ford and expanded under Presidents Reagan, Clinton, Bush, and Obama. Conservatives like the EITC and CTC because they provide a clear incentive for people to work. Liberals like it because it is less bureaucratic than other anti-poverty programs, and it restores some fairness to the tax code. In an era of heightened partisanship, these tax credits are something everyone can support.
Myth #3: “Low-income people don’t pay taxes”
I heard this one straight from Senator Scott Brown’s mouth back in 2010 while on a visit to his office to talk about hunger and poverty. First, all Americans pay taxes. While some individuals do not pay income taxes, they still pay plenty in federal payroll taxes, sales tax, and other federal, state, and local taxes. The one-fifth of taxpayers with the lowest incomes pay 12.4 percent of their income in state and local taxes, which is significantly more than the rate that the top 1 percent of taxpayers pay, which is 8.4 percent. The EITC and CTC help offset this burden for many low-income working families.
Myth #4: “Tax credits encourage dependency”
Only people who are working can receive the EITC and CTC. They encourage work because the more money you make, the larger the credit you receive based on marital status and number of children, up to a certain point. A majority of EITC filers receive the credit for only one or two years before moving into jobs with higher earnings. They end up paying back more in federal taxes than they received in benefits over their lifetimes. The EITC is the most effective anti-poverty program in the country, lifting more people out of poverty than any other program.
Myth #5: "Low-income people will just use their tax credit on frivolous purchases."
While it’s true that we can’t control how people spend their tax benefits, the reality is that low-income families run out of money before they’re able to address all of their needs. Research shows that about half of EITC benefits are used for long-term investments such as improving housing, transportation, or paying tuition. The other half is spent on purchases to meet immediate needs such as food, clothing, or catching up on rent and utilities. Bread for the World is looking to increase options for low-income families by increasing their resources.
With so much misinformation out there, it’s no wonder people are skeptical. But as hunger advocates, we know better than to believe these myths. As you and your organization participate in this year’s Offering of Letters, spreading the facts about these anti-hunger programs will be key to getting people engaged. Whether it’s tax credits, domestic nutrition programs, foreign assistance, or international food aid, these programs work. The sooner Americans know that, the sooner we can stop worrying about these programs being cut.
Jen Fraser is a Regional Organizer at Bread for the World.
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