105 posts categorized "Tax Credits"
Today is April 15, also known as tax day in the United States. People around the country are scrambling to meet the midnight deadline for filing, many of them groaning as they prepare to make sizable payments to the Internal Revenue Service. Tax day in America has become a national day of grousing for the most part, but it doesn't have to be—NETWORK Lobby is promoting a #taxpayerpride campaign on social media, and asking people to take selfies with some of the great things taxes pay for and post them to social media.
"Many of our faith traditions call us to pool our financial resources for the common good,"Sr. Simone Campbell of NETWORK wrote in the launch of the #taxpayerpride campaign. "What makes our country great is our commitment to everyone having enough and no one getting left behind."
We agree! So, to that point, here are three functions of the federal government that are funded by our taxpayer dollars and that support the biblical vision of community and nation as lifting up those who are vulnerable.
1) Earned Income Tax Credit
The earned income tax credit, or EITC, is a refundable federal tax credit (people apply while completing their income tax returns) that supplements the wages of low-income workers. Although there has been some debate on Capitol Hill about expanding the program to include childless workers--an expansion Bread for the World supports—EITC has historically had bi-partisan support, a rare hand-up that most members of Congress can get behind.
The working poor often shoulder a greater share of the tax burden relative to their income, contrary to the conventional wisdom in some circles. A 2012 Citizens for Tax Justice study found that the poorest fifth of Americans, a group with an average cash income of $13,000 per year, saw 17.4 percent of their incomes go to taxes—including payroll tax, sales tax, and excise tax—in 2011.
The EITC helps offset this a bit by allowing low-income workers to keep more of what they earn. In 2010, this credit lifted 5.4 million people out of poverty—including 3 million children.
2) Food-Aid Reform
Even people who don't complain about paying taxes may express concern about our government's stewardship of tax dollars. One example of our tax dollars being used wisely is food-aid reform, the movement to update our government's outdated practices related to food aid, the assistance our nation provides to hungry people across the globe.
Food aid already helps feed people overseas at very little cost—less than .05 percent of the federal budget each year. And smart, simple changes to food-aid programs (as outlined in Bread for the World's 2014 Offering of Letters) would allow food aid to benefit millions more people each year — at no additional cost to U.S. taxpayers. Better utilization of existing tax revenue in a way that helps more people is something tax payers can feel good about.
3) Safety Net Programs
When people are asked to cite some of the great things their tax dollars fund, they often mention national parks, public museums and libraries, or bridges and roads. While Americans are fortunate to live in a country where our government values and invests in things like cultural enrichment and infrastructure,we're even more privileged to live in a nation that has a social safety net in place to catch people before they fall into poverty.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), about 12 percent of the federal budget in 2013, or $398 billion, supported programs that provide aid to individuals and families facing hardship (other than health insurance or Social Security benefits). Included in that figure are SNAP (food stamps), school meals, low-income housing assistance, and many other important programs.
A CBPP analysis shows that government safety net programs kept some 41 million people out of poverty in 2012. Although not nearly enough of our tax dollars go toward helping people in need, the good news is that the money we do spend on social safety net is vital and does much good, something that should make taxpayers feel very proud.
I’ve been thinking about my taxes lately. I’m that person who keeps important papers stuffed in my closet in a crumpled brown paper bag, which I conveniently ignore until the calendar flips to April. My dad will start calling me with reminders any day now, and I’ll make the deadline – I’ll probably file on April 15, if history holds. Taxes are important to my dad. Prior to the current recession, the deepest economic downturn post-World War II was in the early 1980s. Our family qualified for the earned income tax credit (EITC) during that time, and for a few tough years, it made all the difference.
In the early '80s, work was unpredictable and my parents worried a lot. Unemployment and instability are extremely stressful for a family. My memories of that time are reflected in the news today, which is filled with stories of families struggling to find their way through recession. Even though employment hasn’t reached pre-recession rates, Congress has failed to reinstate emergency unemployment, leaving more than 2 million unemployed Americans without a safety net. For those who had some form of work during 2013 and qualify, the EITC will provide some financial assistance.
The tax credit, instituted in 1975, is one of the principal anti-poverty programs in the U.S. budget. If a car breaks down, or there is an expense that month-to-month paychecks can’t cover, the EITC is there to help keep low-income working families from falling into debt. (Take this quiz to see how much you know about the EITC).
In 2010, when this refundable tax credit was about to expire, Bread for the World made it the focus of our Offering of Letters campaign for that year. During the Great Recession, the EITC proved to be a lifeline for many working families that still struggled in the tight economic climate. Bread for the World has advocated for the current benefit levels for this refundable tax credit to be made a permanent part of the tax code—the current benefit levels expire in 2017.
President Obama has called for an expansion in his 2015 budget proposal to include an expansion of the tax refund for childless workers. Currently, a single worker without dependents working full time at minimum wage ($15,080 annually) does not qualify for the credit. If the EITC were expanded to this group of workers, the Treasury Department estimates another half million people would be lifted out of poverty.
Bread for the World will continue push for EITC to be made permanent, and will advocate for the expansion. Since my senator, Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), is now chairman of the Senate Finance Committee with jurisdiction over the tax code and sits on the Budget Committee, I feel like I have a special role to play, and I want to be sure he hears my story. I’m glad EITC was there when my family needed it.
Do you have a story how EITC has helped you or your family? Behind every statistic is a story – and telling them can move hearts and minds to action. If you have a story of how the ongoing budget battles have affected you, we invite you to share with us through our Faces and Facts site.
Robin Stephenson is national social media lead and senior regional organizer, western hub, at Bread for the World.
Photo: flickr user 401 K (2012)
Children in day care in Ohio. (Todd Post)
By Sarah Godfrey
Because I'm very vocal about being a TurboTax wizard, people often ask me to help them with their taxes. I've helped all sorts of friends with the daunting task of filing their returns—some married, some single; some parents, some not; some U.S. citizens, some not. Last year, I helped a friend fill out her tax return to make sure that she was able to take full advantage of all tax breaks she is eligible for as a mom and a low-wage worker. She is one of the 11-12 million people living in the country without documentation, and she is also eligible for the child tax credit (CTC).
My friend files her taxes using an individual tax identification number, or ITIN, rather than a Social Security number, which she doesn't have. Thankfully, she isn't penalized for this, and can still receive the CTC for her children. Although she isn't a U.S. citizen, she pays taxes—both state income tax and payroll tax. The CTC, which reduces her federal income tax by $1,000 per child, is a relatively small break, but it means a lot—it allows her to pay her rent, buy food, save for emergencies, and otherwise maintain stability and comfort for her family.
Unfortunately, that could soon change.
As early as this afternoon, the Senate will vote on an amendment by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) to eliminate the child tax credit for immigrant children who do not have a Social Security number. This change could harm as many as 1 million young DREAMers who are growing up in the United States.
The child tax credit is one of this nation’s most effective anti-poverty programs, lifting 1.5 million children out of poverty every year. The average income of families receiving the refundable CTC is just $21,000 per year, and they rely on the child tax credit to help provide for their children.
Bread for the World and the Coalition on Human Needs ask that you call your senator today (1-888-853-7037) and tell him or her to oppose the Ayotte amendment. We shouldn’t be using anti-poverty programs as an offset for other programs or initiatives—the child tax credit rewards work and helps low-wage workers support their kids. This amendment, which amounts to a tax hike for the poor, is harmful, and could push millions of families—families who are just getting by—into poverty.
Sarah Godfrey is Bread for the World's associate online editor.
During last night’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama focused on income inequality and the growing opportunity gap in America—a regular theme of his recent speeches. “Americans understand that some people will earn more than others, and we don’t resent those who, by virtue of their efforts, achieve incredible success,” he said. “But Americans overwhelmingly agree that no one who works full time should ever have to raise a family in poverty.”
While the president said the word “poverty" only three times, and made no mention of hunger, his speech still referenced several issues relevant to ending hunger and poverty—such as restoring unemployment insurance for those who’ve lost benefits since Jan. 1, and bolstering the earned income tax credit (EITC), one of our government’s most effective anti-poverty measures.
Much of the speech tracked closely with Bread for the World Institute's 2014 Hunger Report: Ending Hunger in America, and Bread for the World's work to end hunger at home and abroad..
Below are five quotes from last night's State of the Union address that touched on hunger and poverty issues, and a brief look at how those remarks connect to Bread’s 2014 legislative agenda.
“I’m also convinced we can help Americans return to the workforce faster by reforming unemployment insurance so that it’s more effective in today’s economy," said Obama. "But first, this Congress needs to restore the unemployment insurance you just let expire for 1.6 million people.”
Bread for the World and its advocates are pushing Congress to immediately reinstate unemployment insurance, and help Americans who rely on their unemployment checks to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads while they continue to look for work. Please contact your members of Congress today and urge them to extend unemployment assistance immediately.
“[I]f you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty,” said the president, after promising that he would give an estimated 560,000 federal contract workers a wage increase to $10.10. He then urged Congress to pass the Harkin-Miller bill and raise the federal minimum wage.
Bread for the World’s 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America, outlines a plan to end hunger in America by 2030, and increasing minimum wage is a critical component. The report urged the president to reform federal contracting policies as an important first step. Income from work is the primary buffer against hunger for the vast majority of American families, yet 28 percent of U.S. jobs pay poverty-level wages.
Earned Income Tax Credit
“There are other steps we can take to help families make ends meet, and few are more effective at reducing inequality and helping families pull themselves up through hard work than the earned income tax credit," Obama said. "Right now, it helps about half of all parents at some point. But I agree with Republicans, like Sen. [Marco] Rubio, that it doesn’t do enough for single workers who don’t have kids. So let’s work together to strengthen the credit, reward work, and help more Americans get ahead.”
Bread for the World supports strengthening the EITC, a refundable tax credit that helps low-income families. Read more about EITC, and how it helps families.
“Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades," Obama said. "And for good reason: when people come here to fulfill their dreams – to study, invent, and contribute to our culture – they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everyone. So let’s get immigration reform done this year."
Bread for the World firmly believes that immigration reform will reduce poverty and hunger, and is advocating for comprehensive, compassionate reform that includes a path to citizenship. Read more about Bread for the World’s immigration work, and our latest update on how Congress will address reform in 2014.
During the State of the Union address, President Obama spoke of work in Africa that would “help end extreme poverty,” and talked about the United States “extending a hand to those devastated by disaster – as we did in the Philippines.” He did not, however, explicitly mention U.S. food aid or food aid reform.
Bread for the World is pushing for smart reforms to U.S. food aid, which does so much good around the world, but simple changes could ensure that the food aid does even more for people in—with no additional cost to U.S. taxpayers. Bread for the World's 2014 Offering of Letters focuses on much-needed reform to U.S. food aid. Learn more about U.S. food aid and why reform is so critical.
Rosie, an imaginative fifth-grader, tries to distract her mind from hunger pangs as she learns and grows in rural Colorado. Her story is told in the 2013 documentary film A Place at the Table (Movie still courtesy of Participant Media).
Is the American dream dying?
The iconic images of the pioneering frontiersman or the weary immigrant gazing west from Ellis Island hold the same promise—that even if someone's immediate circumstances didn't improve by leaving hearth and home behind, their children have a chance at a better life. It was and is the hope of upward mobility.
A new study by a team of Harvard and U.C. Berkeley economic researchers shows that intergenerational mobility – making more income than your parents - may depend in part on where you live.
Family structure, educational investments, and even income inequality correlate with mobility. But the significant variable—the one that means a child born in Seattle is more likely to move up the income ladder than one in Atlanta—is tax expenditures, specifically the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit(CTC). Bread for the World maintains that these tax credits for low-income families are a critical weapon against hunger and must be part of the circle of protection.
In the study’s summary conclusion, the researchers write the following:
What is clear from this research is that there is substantial variation in the United States in the prospects for escaping poverty. There are some areas in the U.S. where a child’s chances of success do not depend heavily on his or her parents’ income. Understanding the features of these areas - and how we can improve mobility in areas that currently have lower rates of mobility - is an important question for future research that we and other social scientists are exploring.
This research should make it clear that members of Congress must keep in place policies that support programs, like the EITC and the CTC, that help create those pathways out of poverty. The tax credits were extended for five years as part of the fiscal cliff deal earlier this year, but are still in danger of being cut. The credits should be made permanent.
As Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) begin proposing reform in their tax writing committees this year, it remains to be seen how they will treat tax credits for working families. In the Senate Finance Committee, Chairman Baucus and ranking member Orin Hatch (R-Utah) have called for a blank slate and are asking for input from fellow members of Congress.
With automatic cuts already in place, and additional cuts proposed as part of budget negotiations, Bread for the World is urging Congress to take a balanced approach to our fiscal future and protect anti-poverty programs like tax credits for working families. Tax reform must also include the needed revenue to continue these and other programs that support a strong safety net.
For as much elbow grease that has oiled the American dream, sound government policies that set a course for prosperity have laid the foundation for individuals to escape poverty. This study shows that cutting and weakening the EITC and CTC could lead to a new American narrative: a reversal of fortune.
Bread’s 2013 Offering of Letters, “A Place at the Table,” is in full swing and your letters and phone calls are influencing Congress. Below is a list of current proposed legislation affecting programs for hungry and poor people.
The House and Senate Agriculture Committees are busy drafting their respective farm bills. Both committees are aiming to mark up their bills by mid-May. It is very likely both committees will include cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). Last year, the Senate proposed to cut SNAP by $4.5 billion over ten years and the House by $16 billion over ten years. International food aid programs are also at risk. Last year, the Senate included much needed reforms to the programs while the House cut food aid quality programs by over 95 percent. Now is the time to reach out to members of Congress on the Agriculture Committees to voice our support for these vital programs.
Congressman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) recently reintroduced a resolution in support of SNAP, H. Res. 90. This resolution is very similar to H. Res. 760, which was introduced last year and had more than 100 cosponsors. Currently, H. Res. 90 has 102 cosponsors and we are urging more members to sign on to show strong support for SNAP as the Agriculture Committees work on their farm bills.Act Now: Call your senators and representative today at 1-800-326-4941, or send them an email, and tell them to protect and strengthen SNAP!
In April, the House and the Senate passed their fiscal year 2014 budget resolutions and the White House released its budget. Both the Senate’s and president’s budgets would replace the sequester, the automatic across-the-board cuts that started to take effect in March. For more on sequestration basics, see the graphic on the back page of this newsletter and download our fact sheet “The Consequences of Sequestration” from the Bread website.
President Obama’s proposal is based on his last offer to House Speaker John Boehner during the fiscal cliff negotiations. It raises revenue while cutting some entitlements. The president’s budget also includes a proposal for reforming food aid, which could enable up to 4 million more people to be reached with comparable resources while saving approximately $500 million over the next 10 years.
The House and Senate are now negotiating a process whereby a single compromised version of the budget is agreed upon by both chambers. This could provide a path for the grand bargain and a replacement of the sequester.
The Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee are both moving on tax reform. House Ways and Means Chair Dave Camp (R-Mich.) has issued a series of overhaul proposals over the past two years and has promised legislation for a comprehensive rewrite by the end of the year. And Senate Finance Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has been holding meetings with Camp and other Republicans.
The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) have been topics of discussion within both committees. Bread for the World has sent a letter to the Ways and Means Committee, stressing the importance of these refundable tax credits. Bread members who have senators and representatives on those committees will need to be especially persistent in contacting their members as we continue to urge Congress to increase revenue so we can adequately fund programs that help people who are hungry or living in poverty.
This update originally appeared in the May/June edition of Bread for the World's e-newsletter.
Photo: Bread members and staff on Capitol Hill for 2011 Lobby Day. (William Johnson)
A couple of months ago Ayana Edwards' trusty Honda broke down—for good. She was distraught. Edwards commutes 60 miles round-trip each day, from her home in a suburb of Washington, D.C., to an office in a part of Virginia that is beyond the reach of public transportation. She immediately began to worry about the possibility of losing her job and her means of providing for herself and her family. Although it's never a good time for a car to die, luckily Edwards' vehicle troubles occurred right around the time she was to file her tax return. She is one of the 27 million Americans who receives the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a refundable federal tax credit that helps working families.
“The EITC has been a huge help," Edwards says. "It really saved me."
Edwards once utilized several federal safety net programs, but over the years she has increased her earnings, through training and a series of progressively better-paying jobs. She is currently working in human resources and no longer qualifies for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or SNAP (formerly food stamps). If she continues on her current career trajectory, soon she’ll no longer qualify for EITC, either. But, as it is now, the tax credit provides her and her four children with a very important hand-up.
"It’s practical and allows me to get money in one lump sum—money that I can use to catch up on bills, or make a major purchase, if I need to," she says. "I can get things like coats for the kids, if they’ve outgrown something. I have a larger family, so I’m not always able to replace all of the winter coats that no longer fit all at once. When I get my tax refund, which includes the EITC, that’s something I can do.”
This year, Edwards used her EITC money to buy a used car. She didn't have to scramble to figure out transportation, and she didn't lose her job. That lump sum arrived exactly when she needed it, giving her peace of mind, and preventing a blow from which it might've taken a very long time to recover. Without a working car, how would she get to work? Without a job, how would she pay her rent or feed her family? She thinks that those who diminish the importance of the credit, and think it should be reduced or eliminated altogether, just don't understand it's role in helping millions of families secure food, clothing, and shelter.
“The only people who could say something against [EITC] are those who aren't in a position to need it, or don't care about those of us who really do need it," Edwards says.
Rosie often has to fight hunger pangs to concentrate in school. Photo courtesy Magnolia Pictures.
As you prepare your taxes, take some time to reflect on where your dollars are going. Many of those dollars go to pay for the infrastructure that holds us together as a nation. Very few go toward helping people in dire need. But those few dollars may hold the most value. Imagine what one dollar’s worth of food means to a senior citizen with an empty cupboard. Think of what a healthy breakfast means to a fifth-grader who would otherwise have to learn arithmetic on an empty stomach.
“I struggle a lot and most of the time it’s because my stomach is really hurting,” said Rosie, an elementary school student in Colorado, describing what it is like to try to learn when she is hungry. “I start yawning and then I zone out and I’m just looking at the teacher and I look at her and all I think about is food.”
Rosie is one of the individuals profiled in the new documentary A Place at the Table. As the film makes clear, the best efforts by congregation and community groups to alleviate hunger are inadequate. Food banks fill a gap, but federal programs provide 95 percent of the food assistance in this country. Tax dollars go directly to programs that help families like Rosie’s. The effect in the lives of people living in poverty is beyond mere calculation.
Our faith calls us to alleviate hunger and poverty and the Bible tells us that government has an important role in making sure that all people are fed, clothed, and sheltered. Thus, the federal budget is a moral document that reflects our national values. Our taxes are a necessary part of that equation, ensuring that the government can fund its priorities.
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.
Single father John Lohmeier shops at a food pantry in the Chicago, Ill., suburbs. Lohmeier talks about losing his six-figure salary and needing assistance in the documentary. (Screen shot from The Line)
By Sarah Godfrey
In the documentary The Line, a look at poverty in America, Illinois single father John Lohmeier shares his story of losing his job and six-figure salary and becoming someone struggling to make ends meet. "For the first time, I've gone from being somebody who could help to being somebody who needs help," Lohmeier says.
It seems the line between those who are able to offer assistance and those who need it is becoming increasingly fluid. Case in point: according to a recent report, nearly half of all Americans lack a basic personal safety net to prepare them for emergencies or future needs.
The Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) study found that 43.9 percent of U.S. households—some poor, some making more than $90,000 per year—don't have enough savings to last three months at a poverty-level income. For those who don't understand the importance of federal safety net programs, or can't imagine being in a position to need SNAP (formerly food stamps), WIC, or other forms of assistance, the study should serve as a powerful wake-up call.
The good news is that saving money, even in relatively small amounts, can help put families on better financial footing. And saving money and getting rid of debt isn't something that is only accessible to wealthy and middle-class families. The importance asset building in fighting poverty was explored in the 2010 Hunger Report piece "Incentives to Build Savings." As the Hunger Report points out, it is harder for poor people to save money, it’s a misperception that they don’t or won’t save:
Having emergency savings can help families better weather an economic setback. Research has found that households with assets are much less likely to suffer serious hardships in the event of an economic emergency, such as a job loss. Families without emergency savings, on the other hand, are much more vulnerable to economic catastrophe, such as foreclosure, homelessness and dependence on public assistance.
Research shows that people with incomes well below the poverty line are able to save. A national research study known as the American Dream Demonstration tested the effectiveness of asset-development programs for poor people. People were saving to build assets such as homeownership, education, or starting a business.
Unfortunately, snips to our social safety net make saving money even more difficult. Andrea Levere, president of CFED, told Salon that the study's findings were “particularly disturbing given the ongoing budget talks in Congress that will likely result in further reductions in the social safety net and other programs that help low- and moderate-income people get on their feet and start planning and saving for a better future.”In other words, it is crucial that we continue to work to protect vital safety net programs and to ensure that Congress, in balancing the federal budget, doesn’t make it impossible for poor working families to balance their household budgets.
Sarah Godfrey is Bread for the World's associate online editor.
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