The Case for Increasing the Massachusetts Earned Income Tax Credit
Pause for a moment. Now picture yourself as part of a family of four. You have two young kids, you and your spouse work full-time jobs. You and your spouse work hard to provide for your children and have provided everything they need, ensuring they have a fulfilling childhood. Possibly a better childhood than your own.
Up until now, you managed to get by, but rent has crept up and up, with no signs of stopping, slowly becoming a burden and hindering your ability to afford other basic needs. Even with your full-time job, it is becoming seemingly impossible to make ends meet and have money left over at the end of the month.
You now face difficult choices. Your kids need a home, so you have to pay rent, but your kids are growing and growing fast. How long do you put off buying new clothes, shoes, and coats so you can pay rent? Do you skimp on your budget for food and cut back on the cost of your meals to make ends meet? Do you keep your home a bit colder in the winter because an expensive utility bill may threaten your ability to pay rent when it is due? How will this affect your kids? How will this affect your relationship with your spouse? What about your job? How long will it take for your kids to realize this is not normal and that something is wrong?
Pause. Relax. Breathe.
With the cost of rent rising across Massachusetts, many working families are currently asking themselves these questions and doing their best to protect their children from hardships. At Children’s HealthWatch, we know current policies including the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which is a refundable tax credit for low- and moderate-income working families, could be strengthened to ensure families in Massachusetts are able to afford a home without straining to pay for other basic needs, such as utility bills, medication, health care and food.
Our research shows families in 71 cities across the Commonwealth are able to afford a two-bedroom home in their community with the current federal and state EITC (the Massachusetts EITC is currently matched at 23 percent of the federal credit) combined with the average income of a family of four claiming EITC in their city. But we know we can do better. We then modeled what raising the Massachusetts EITC to 50 percent of the federal credit would do for working families across the Commonwealth. From that, we found families in 83 cities would be able to afford a home in their community without spending more than 30% of their earnings on rent. Raising the state EITC to 50 percent of the federal credit could alternatively also help families catch up on back rent, avoid an eviction, or allow families to pay for basic needs without sacrificing other needs.
However, raising the state EITC to 50 percent of the federal credit is only part of the solution to help families afford a stable home. We must also implement policies that preserve and increase the supply of affordable housing and policies that provide resources to families to help them meet the demands of rent.
The solutions above are attainable, but they require people to play an active role in their community, communicate with their legislators, and make their stories heard. As a former organizer, I have witnessed firsthand what can happen when communities get energized, organized, and involved in policymaking. In North Carolina, community leaders educated and empowered their neighbors to take action and this resulted in overturned laws.
As the new coordinator of the Healthy Families EITC Coalition, a coalition working to improve the health and well-being of Massachusetts children and families through an increase in the state EITC, I want everyone who has a stake in increasing the EITC to get involved with our coalition and share their story. This includes families who have benefited from EITC or who have been affected by rising housing costs, community leaders, faith leaders, organizations who are not currently a member of the Healthy Families EITC Coalition, and those who feel a need to help and improve their communities. Your involvement and story could be the difference and move lawmakers to improve the well-being of families across Massachusetts. Together we can close the gap between working families’ income and rent, and protect children and their families from stories of poverty like the one you just read.
For more information, contact Keith Chappelle at keith.chappelle(at)bmc.org.