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The Inclusive Economy

Capitol Hill Policy Forum Explores Opportunities to Reform, Expand EITC, VITA Programs

By Ezra Levin on 02/05/2015 @ 04:00 PM

Tags: Federal Policy, News

Last Friday, a bipartisan group of more than 100 Capitol Hill staffers, reporters, advocates and nonprofit leaders came together to focus in on the politics, policy, research and real-life impact of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programs. The event, co-hosted on Capitol Hill by CFED and Tax Credits for Working Families, was headlined by two illustrious speakers, one a policymaker and the other an academic. First to speak was Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), a long-time advocate for both EITC and VITA, as well as low-income working Americans more generally. Senator Brown spoke about the impact that these programs have on working families in Ohio and throughout the country, and described some his proposals for expanding their reach.

Kathryn Edin, Professor at Johns Hopkins University, followed Senator Brown’s remarks with an illuminating presentation of some of the findings from her new book, It’s Not Like I’m Poor. Professor Edin and her co-authors spent years on their research, conducting in-depth interviews with over a hundred EITC recipients. The final product is a page-turner that is moving, insightful and prescriptive—with a set of federal policy reforms that could greatly expand the impact of tax-time programs for low-income working individuals and families. As Professor Edin and her colleagues demonstrate through stories and data in their book, the EITC is much more than an income-boosting program—it’s also a savings program, an investment program and an economic mobility program. As Edin and her co-authors put it, “The EITC not only eases the economic burdens of the working poor, but motivates asset building and debt reduction. It does so in a way earnings or other forms of income our families receive usually do not. As a result, the EITC is uniquely positioned to boost parent and child well-being.” In short, we should bring more recognition to the EITC for what it is: the largest asset-building program in the country.

Following Professor Edin’s remarks, Friday’s event continued with a panel discussion that brought several different perspectives to bear on EITC and VITA—those of researcher, service provider and program recipient. Professor Edin joined the panel along with:

  • Chye-Ching Huang, Senior Tax Policy Analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
  • Barb Mantegani, Board Member and former President of Community Tax Aid, which runs VITA sites throughout the Washington, D.C. area.
  • Laurie-Anne Sayles, former EITC recipient and Associate Investigator at the National Institutes of Health.
  • Greg Kauffman, former poverty policy journalist for The Nation and current Editor of TalkPoverty.Org, moderated the panel discussion on the politics surrounding EITC and VITA, and the audience questions that followed.

Several high-ranking Members of Congress have recently endorsed the EITC, including Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), Chair of the House Ways & Means Committee, and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). While the path forward for EITC and VITA reform remains unclear, the energy in the room on Friday was palpable. These programs are having an enormous impact on the lives of low- and moderate-income families, and there is a significant opportunity for the assets field to develop and advocate for thoughtful reform. We hope that this event is one step in that direction.

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