CLEVELAND, OH – With the start of tax season, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) announced today a bill to answer a call made by both President Obama and leading Republicans to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). In conjunction with raising the federal minimum wage, Brown called for passage of the Working Families Tax Relief Act in order to strengthen the middle class and promote economic opportunity for all Americans. This bill would strengthen and expand the eligibility of the EITC and enhance the Child Tax Credit (CTC).
“Enhancing the Earned Income Tax Credit should be a bipartisan goal,” Brown said. “The President’s call for action is the first step toward ensuring that American’s who work hard and take responsibility can take home more of their pay each month. As we continue our economic recovery, it’s vital that we pursue policies that promote work and provide ladders of opportunity to more Ohioans. We can accomplish this by strengthening the EITC and raising the minimum wage for 1.3 million Ohioans.”
The EITC is a refundable tax credit that encourages work, helps families make ends meet, and leads to healthier, better educated children. Ronald Reagan, in fact, called the EITC the “most effective anti-poverty program in the U.S.” In 2012, more than 27 million taxpayers received nearly $62 billion in EITC benefits. In 2011, according to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the EITC lifted 6.6 million Americans out of poverty, 3.1 million of whom were children—with the average EITC family claiming an average of $2,200. But in contrast to the EITC for working families with children, the EITC for workers without children remains extremely small—too small even to fully offset federal taxes for workers at the poverty line. Under current law, a childless adult or noncustodial parent working full-time is only eligible to receive a minimum benefit. Such an individual would receive the maximum EITC if he or she had children. As a result, low-wage workers not raising minor children are the only Americans taxed into poverty.
To fix this problem and help American taxpayers save more money, the Working Families Tax Relief Act would:
- Strengthen the Earned Income Tax Credit: The legislation would expand access to the credit, allowing a full time worker receiving the minimum credit to be eligible for the maximum EITC. The bill will also make the credit available to workers without children.
- Change the Eligibility Age: Under current law only individuals older than 25 and younger than 65 are eligible for the childless component of the EITC. The legislation would make individuals older than 21 and younger than 65 eligible.
- Index the Child Tax Credit for Inflation: In order to maintain the value and access of the CTC, the bill would index it for inflation.
- Simplify the Earned Income Tax Credit: The legislation would eliminate a major source of inadvertent fraud by simplifying the rules for claiming the EITC. This bill makes it simple for parents to understand who claims a child and for divorced parents to properly file. The bill also simplifies rules that penalize working families from saving and investing their savings.
- Make permanent enhancements to the Earned Income Tax Credit: Working families with two or more children qualify for an EITC equal to 40 percent of the family’s first $12,570 of income. The Recovery Act increased the EITC to 45 percent for families with three or more children, and the bipartisan agreement to avert the fiscal cliff extended these reforms for five additional years, through 2017. The EITC has a long history of bipartisan support dating back to its creation in 1975 and its expansion in the bipartisan 1986 Tax Reform Act. According to recent estimates, allowing the expanded EITC to expire would increase taxes on 6.5 million families with income below $50,000.
- Make permanent enhancements to the Child Tax Credit: The CTC allows a family to reduce federal income tax liability by up to $1,000 per child. CTC became public law in 1997 through a bipartisan agreement. The 2001 “Bush” Tax Cuts began a phased in increase of the credit from $500 - $1,000 and an increase in the refundable portion of the bill. The Recovery Act reduced the salary threshold for claiming the refundable portion of the credit to income above $3,000. An analysis of Census data showed that these provisions lifted 900,000 people above the poverty line in 2011. According to recent estimates, letting the expanded CTC expire would increase taxes on 12 million families who would see the size of their CTC credit shrink, and five million families would no longer be eligible for the credit at all.
Brown also argued that the best way to ensure Americans the opportunity for a dignified, middle-class life is to complement the EITC with a fair minimum wage. That is why Brown continued his call for Congress to pass the Fair Minimum Wage Act which would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for all workers—both federal and non-federal—in order to make it a living wage. Joining Brown to support his efforts was Lou Tisler, Executive Director of the Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland (NHSGC), where today’s press conference took place. With tax filing season beginning today, Tisler announced his “Top 10 Tax Tips” for working Ohioans that could save taxpayers hundreds of dollars a year and ensure they take advantage of the EITC and CTC, if eligible.
Also joining Brown were Ohio State Rep. Mike Foley (D-Cleveland), who advocated for a stronger EITC program at the state level; and Cleveland residents Juanalicia Duran and her daughter. Duran has benefitted from the EITC and discussed how the program helped keep her family further away from poverty.
During the press conference, Brown also released a list of sites from Policy Matters Ohio where Ohioans can receive free tax help. VITA volunteer tax preparers offer free tax help to low-to-moderate income individuals and help them claim credits aimed to help working families.