Poor may lack 'powerful lobbies' but have 'greatest needs,' bishop says
WASHINGTON -- The head of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development urged the Senate to retain tax credits that keep low-income Americans from sinking into poverty, saying it would be "unjust and unwise" to let them lapse while addressing tax-cut proposals for higher-income Americans.
"It would be unjust and unwise to fail to renew improvements and extensions of low-income tax credits as the Congress addresses tax cuts for middle-income and wealthy Americans," said Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., the committee's chairman, in a July 25 letter addressed to members of the Senate.
"Poor working families and their children may not have the most powerful lobbies, but they have the greatest needs and the most compelling claim," he said.
At issue are extending the earned income tax credit and the refundable child tax credit.
The earned income tax credit was part of a Senate bill, the Middle Class Tax Cut Act, which passed the upper chamber 51-48 July 25. The bill now goes to the House, where its chances for passage are slimmer. A bill introduced July 24 by Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., that would, among other things, extend certain improvements in the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.
The Census Bureau estimated in 2011 that the earned income tax credit, in place since 1975, lifted 5.4 million Americans out of poverty in 2010.
The credit was found to have cost the federal government more than $36 billion in 2004. A 2010 federal study found that between 22 and 30 percent who receive the credit do not qualify for it, a cost of $8 billion-$10 billion. But 15 to 25 percent who are eligible for it never claim it.
The child tax credit, increased in 2004 to $1,000 and extended two years ago through 2012, will revert to $500 next year without congressional action.
"Poverty in this country is historically high and growing. Currently, more than 46 million Americans live in poverty; more than 16 million of them are children. In America today, the younger a person is, the more likely they are to live in poverty," Bishop Blaire said in a discussion about the issue. "Low-income tax credits are pro-work, pro-family, and some of the most effective anti-poverty programs in our nation."
Bishop Blaire cited the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church in his argument for keeping the tax credits. He said it "clearly states the importance of ensuring that workers make a family wage, 'a wage sufficient to maintain a family and allow it to live decently.'"
The compendium says, "There can be several different ways to make a family wage a concrete reality. Various forms of important social provisions help to bring it about, for example, family subsidies and other contributions for dependent family members."
"These tax credits that help low-income families live in dignity are important steps in this direction," Bishop Blaire said.
The issue of tax credits is likely to be part of a budget package that would consider tax rates and potential federal budget cuts later this year.
He asked Congress to "strengthen the bipartisan commitment to assist those working families who struggle the most."
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