Extending tax credit will help low-wage workers

January 10, 2017. The following op-ed by Ron Deutsch appeared in the Buffalo News.

Poverty. While it may not be the glitz and glamour of a flashy news story, it is a very real and pervasive issue for millions of Americans, particularly in New York State. As such, and especially in the aftermath of the 2016 election, it should be clear to members of both political parties that struggling workers face real challenges and need real solutions.

The need in our state is great. In New York, 44 percent of working households struggled to afford basic household necessities in 2014. That’s according to the United Way’s recent ALICE report.
ALICE, which stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, is a national project that applies research-based analysis to lend a voice to New Yorkers who work hard, yet still struggle to keep up with the cost of living.

The United Way report examined the needs and hardships of the growing number of households that do not earn enough to make ends meet. In Erie County, 41 percent of residents are deemed “working poor,” and in the City of Buffalo alone, that figure jumps up to an astonishing 60 percent.

Even worse: 466,000 workers not raising children in our state—and 7.5 million workers across the nation—are currently taxed into or deeper into poverty, largely because they are left out of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) that families with children in the home receive. These are folks with low-wage jobs who are so on the brink that, after taxes, they find themselves actually at or below the poverty level. These are young workers trying to build a strong and stable future. These are working, noncustodial or older parents supporting their children who aren’t living in their home. These are working veterans and active military members and working, single New Yorkers.

The bottom line is that no working American should be taxed into—or deeper into—poverty. One bipartisan solution can be found in the Earned Income Tax Credit, which has helped struggling working families climb out of poverty but leaves out or barely helps millions of workers who don’t have children or aren’t raising them in their home.

Fortunately, there may be an opportunity to address this issue soon. Press reports indicate that President-elect Donald Trump and Republican leaders in Congress are planning to pursue tax reform, which would likely include significant tax breaks for corporations and high-income taxpayers. Low-wage workers spoke loud and clear during the presidential election, wanting Congress and the next administration to address their concerns. Lawmakers have a responsibility to ensure that struggling workers—such as those who are currently excluded from the EITC—also receive tax relief, should a tax package be presented.

Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Brian Higgins should join with the new president and their colleagues in Congress—including House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has also supported EITC expansion—to ensure that no working American is taxed into poverty by working to expand the EITC for low-wage workers not raising children in the home.