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Will EITC Always Be an Uncontroversial Program?

EITC_irs_photo_blogBy Robin Stephenson

I was really happy that NPR ran a story on "Morning Edition" last week about the power of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

At Bread for the World, we know the EITC has the power to change lives. For the last several years we have advocated for this refundable tax credit, and the Child Tax Credit, because both programs provide a hand up and a path out of poverty. 

"Morning Edition" reporter Marianne McCune said the EITC, which is “[e]ncouraging poor people to work and giving them a boost for keeping at it" is "relatively uncontroversial—for now.”

The "for now" in McCune's statement is appropriately ominous. The tax credit has had a long history of bipartisan support, but could easily become another political football in the budget debates—despite the fact that it's one of our country's most successful anti-poverty programs.

I know the EITC works and changes lives because I've heard the success stories over and over again. I am always surprised by how many people come up to me in churches after adult forum presentations on the issue and tell me how they have been grateful for the program. “When our family was first starting out, my husband and I were establishing our careers and not making a lot of money, and the couple of years we qualified helped us through until we made enough," is one common tale.  Also: "After I was on my own as a single parent, that program got me through the tough times so that I could take care of my children until I could get back on stable ground." One of my colleagues has talked about how vital the EITC has been for his family. 

The stories are anecdotal, but they’re backed up by data. Brookings Institute has reported that the benefit, which most families use for just two years, lifts more children above the poverty line than any other government program. In 2011, these credits helped 8.7 million low-income working families avoid severe poverty. Still, personal stories though, such as that of John from the documentary The Line (see below), are as powerful as statistics, and can change hearts and minds—especially on Capitol Hill. 

This year’s Offering of Letters, "A Place at the Table," includes advocating again for the refundable tax credits. The American Taxpayer Relief Act extended important improvements to the EITC and CTC, but these will expire in five years. The EITC and CTC are especially vulnerable to cuts now, as Congress simplifies the tax code and curbs deductions. But the low-wage workers who benefit from the EITC and CTC do not have lobbyists to fight on their behalf. Bread for the World members must raise their voices to protect these credits. Contact your members of Congress and voice your support for EITC—you can make a difference in the push to protect this program.

Robin Stephenson is national social media lead and senior regional organizer, western hub, at Bread for the World.

Photo: IRS.gov

 

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