One of the most positive trends that I have seen during our public health emergency is a robust discussion around what we mean by “essential workers.” Many have asked whether our public policies live up to the “you’re a hero” accolades now heaped on grocery store cashiers and housekeeping staff at nursing homes. Rev. William J. Barber II and Joe Kennedy III eloquently addressed our hypocrisy on the April 27 opinion page in the Washington Post.
Now, as our federal legislators debate whether there will be a fifth stimulus bill and what its components would be, we have an opportunity to confess our history of hypocrisy in the best way possible – by living our amends instead of just speaking it. We can bring a much needed recurring influx of cash assistance into the homes of essential workers with low incomes through reform of our Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) programs.
The federal EITC has many benefits, lifting millions of households out of poverty, encouraging and rewarding work. Under current law, a childless adult or noncustodial parent who works full-time, year-round at the federal minimum wage is ineligible for the EITC. (Such an individual would receive the maximum EITC if he or she had dependent children.) As a result, workers with low wages who are not raising children are the sole group that the federal tax system taxes into poverty or pushes deeper into poverty.
Our federal legislators ought to fix this structural flaw and include workers with children among those who may benefit from the EITC. You may use a template that we have set up at our website to take action.
Unfortunately the CTC also has structural flaws; parents with very low incomes may receive no credit or only a partial credit presently. The Economic Mobility Act (HR 3300) has offered a way to fix this, but it has not yet passed. Federal legislators should take the language from HR 3300 and insert it into the next stimulus package, setting up a way for households with low incomes to have a much needed boost of cash.
One of the best things about making these two changes in tax law in the next generation of COVID-19 relief is the racial equity implications. Of the 923,000 Missouri families helped by the proposed changes to EITC and CTC:
- 6,300 are American Indian/Alaskan Native
- 16,000 are Asian American
- 158,000 are Black
- 39,000 are Latino
- 696,000 are White
As with any email template that we publish on our website, your correspondence with Sen. Blunt, Sen. Hawley and your U.S. Representative will be more effective if you take action and edit the subject line and content into your own voice. Briefly tell your elected officials a bit about your lived experience and why you care about this issue. Are you a volunteer or staff member at a food pantry, homeless shelter, or other helping agency? Help the legislator to see with your eyes. How will a change to EITC and CTC help families you have met or your own family? This kind of information makes advocacy very effective.
If you took action on Tuesday when we first announced this campaign, feel free to email your legislator again and change the message to focus on just one item that is most important to you. You may also forward our Weekly Perspective and this blog to friends, relatives, and co-workers. There is strength in numbers, so help us speak loudly and clearly to our federal lawmakers. Thank you for taking action.
Jeanette Mott Oxford
Executive Director/Director of Policy and Organizing
P.S. Need poverty data to include in your advocacy? The 2020 State of Poverty Report has been released by Missourians to End Poverty, of which we are a proud member. Download it at: https://missouripovertyreport.org/download/