Helping Kansas families rise above poverty
The Kansas City Star
President Ronald Reagan called the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) “the best anti-poverty, the best pro-family, the best job creation measure to come out of Congress.”
Reagan’s quote served as strong advocacy for the EITC’s inclusion in the 1998 Kansas tax package. Kansas Gov. Bill Graves took pride in touting the $252 million bill’s inherent fairness as the policy slashed income, inheritance, low-income, sales and business taxes.
When the Kansas legislators return to Topeka on Wednesday, they will continue debating tax reduction. Part of this debate will include the refundable EITC.
The House has proposed cutting the refundable credit in half, while the Senate has kept the EITC at its present 18 percent rate.
Evidence-based programs are something we often hear discussed. The EITC has been studied and studied, showing positive outcomes for children and families. At the time of the passage of this policy, it was touted for its efficiency for families and the Department of Revenue. Working parents do not need to call to make an appointment, leave work to go to that appointment or fill out pages of an application.
They simply file their tax returns. The Kansas refundable credit is then figured as a percentage of the federal credit, which means the determination for this credit is made only on earned income as reported on an income tax statement.
Through the years, I have asked Head Start parents how they use the federal and state EITC, and they’ve told me they are paying bills that include medical bills, buying new tires and performing needed repairs on their cars, or improving their housing, increasing their skills through education, and buying their children shoes. The majority of this money is spent in the local economy.
The EITC is one way to offset the substantial share of income that low-earning families pay in sales tax.
Yet Gov. Sam Brownback’s initial tax plan proposed to make the temporary sales tax increase permanent and eliminate the EITC to help pay for high-income tax breaks. Pro-growth is a term often mentioned as vital to tax policy. I think pro-growth also refers to the care of our Kansas children and the parents who have been entrusted with their well-being.
The EITC in Kansas assists in the growth and nurturance of the children of more than 180,000 workers. The elimination of the present tax policy of the EITC would result in an additional 2,000 working families with 4,000 children falling below poverty. This sets Kansas back on one of the governor’s stated goals of reducing childhood poverty.
In our Sisters of Charity ministries in Kansas we serve through our hospitals and clinics, many of the parents receive this credit. Also, many of these parents work with us in our clinics and hospitals. Policies that protect and support them and their families — and other families with similar economic circumstances — are important to us.
As I make the drive to Topeka from Kansas City several times a week, I’m watching the jubilant signs of spring — frolicking baby calves and flowering trees. I’m also watching the rising gas prices. I ask myself how the budgets of these families are accommodating this increase. There are no expense accounts or mileage reimbursements for their jobs.
In a letter last month to Congress, Bishops Stephen Blaire and Richard Pates who lead justice and peace efforts for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, reminded senators and representatives that the federal budget choices are “economic, political and moral … and that our Catholic Community defends the unborn, feeds the hungry, educates the young … help(s) poor families rise above crushing poverty.”
I propose that tax policy, too, provides a moral choice. Preserving resources for working parents is a choice that Brownback and our Kansas legislators can make.
Sister Therese Bangert is Social Justice Coordinator for Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth. She lives in Kansas City, Kan.