The Inclusive Economy
EITC Gains and Losses: 2012 Legislative Update
By Elvis Guzman on 06/07/2012 @ 12:15 PM
The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is one of the strongest public benefit programs that help to reduce poverty and is mainly intended to increase the incomes of low-wage families with children. Over 27 million families claimed the federal EITC in 2009. The amount of the credit depends on the recipient’s income, marital status, and number of dependent children. In 2010, the federal EITC lifted 6.6 million people (including 3.3 million children) out of poverty. Twenty-five states, plus the District of Columbia, supplement the federal credit with their own state-level versions of the EITC. States typically calculate the credit as a percentage of the federal EITC and most programs are refundable.
For years this program has been praised by both major political parties; in fact, the federal EITC was first proposed by the Nixon administration and was later expanded by administrations from both parties. State EITCs, however, continue to face political challenges. Following is a brief overview of changes or proposals to state-level EITC programs in the past year.
In the wake of the recent economic recession, state EITCs have been part of several public programs targeted for possible austerity. Recent fiercely contested battles in Kansas and Oklahoma demonstrate the strong opinions surrounding the credit. Kansas Governor Brownback proposed to eliminate the EITC and Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC), along with the state’s income tax. Ultimately, legislative negotiations resulted in a “compromise” where the EITC was left intact, while the CDCTC and other provisions were eliminated. Similarly, Oklahoma Governor Fallin proposed to eliminate the state’s EITC, CDCTC and Child Tax Credit (CTC), to help fund the elimination of the state’s income tax. After similar bills passed the House and Senate, groups advocated critically against these cuts. Ultimately, both chambers could not come to an agreement and no tax reform was passed in the recent legislative session.
EITC programs in other states faced similar legislative challenges. In 2011, Michigan legislators voted to decrease the state’s EITC rate from 20 to 6 percent of the federal credit. Earlier this year, House Bill 5407 was introduced to amend these changes but has made little progress. North Carolina’s EITC is set to expire at the end of this year. After the legislature proposed eliminating the credit in 2011, this year a bill was introduced and is under consideration in the House and Senate to extend the EITC, CTC and CDCTC. In Iowa, the Senate passed Senate File 2161 to increase the EITC from the current 7 percent to 20 percent of the federal credit by 2014. Governor Branstad, gave his support for an increase in the EITC if commercial and industrial property taxes were cut in a reform package. The state legislature ended its session in May with no agreement on a bill.
Wins and Opportunities
While the economic recession has posed threats to existing state-level EITC programs, some states have proposed or enacted legislation to improve this credit. After a long push by local advocates dating to 2003, in late 2011 Illinois passed a bill that doubled its credit to 10 percent of the federal EITC over the next three years. The measure also increased the personal exemption and indexed it to inflation. In New Jersey, Governor Christie pledge to slowly increase the state’s EITC back to 25 percent, after he reduced the rate to 20 percent in 2010.
Legislatures in Maryland and Utah proposed measures to improve or create EITC programs, however both sessions ended with unsuccessful results. The Maryland state Senate proposed to increase the state EITC to 30 percent of the federal credit, along with an increase in the income tax, however the house failed to pass this package. The Utah state Senate passed a bill to create a state EITC at 5 percent of the federal credit, but the session ended with no resolution. While these pushes were not successful, they demonstrate that there is clear support for state EITCs and have opened the window for local advocacy groups and policymakers to take future action.
There are a few upcoming political battles that may affect the federal EITC during the lame-duck session, including the extension of the Bush tax-cuts, the cuts in the Budget Control Act and the looming debate over raising the federal debt ceiling. Advocates are closely watching these highly-contested issues since they may result in cuts to the federal credit.
Benefits of the EITC
States often see cutting tax credits for low- and moderate- income families as an easy way to reduce spending. However, legislators frequently fail to see the benefits tax credits provide to working parents and their children. Enacting state-level EITCs is linked to better health related outcomes for children, including higher rates of private insurance and less reliance on public health programs, such as Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), (Baughman, 2012). This research also indicates that parents receiving the EITC are more likely to move into better paying jobs with more benefits, particularly health care. Other studies indicate the EITC increases employment, shifting dependence away from cash and food assistance programs; between 1993 to1996, economists estimate over a half million families moved from AFDC and the food stamps program to employment (Greenstein, 2005). Millions of hard-working families and children thrive with EITC assistance and it’s counterintuitive to cut these essential programs.
To help protect the federal and state EITCs, keep yourself updated on legislative changes. Lend your voice to local advocacy groups and contact your state’s elected officials. We must continue to act in unison to ensure low- and moderate-income families are not left behind.