Tax Breaks Are Not Just for the Rich
It’s Time to Redouble Efforts to Combat Poverty
For parents with young children, many pandemic-related routines are now thankfully in the rearview mirror: drive-by birthday parties, school drop-offs far from the classroom, and watching little ones struggle with masks. Unfortunately, one helpful routine relied upon by millions of parents is now abruptly a thing of the past: receiving monthly payments from the federal government to help pay for life’s basic needs, such as food, childcare, and rent.
This has made life harder for tens of thousands of our neighbors, many of whom work hard but are not receiving the federal and state benefits they have earned that can help put food on the table. As well, of the 51,000 households in our county eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit, just 38,000 are receiving it, leaving nearly 13,000 who are ignoring state dollars they have earned.
The historic 2021 Child Tax Credit was passed into law as part of the American Rescue Plan. For a year, this legislation dramatically succeeded as economists and advocates predicted: It lifted nearly three million children out of poverty, including approximately 10,000 in Santa Barbara County, and slashed the number of families struggling with food insecurity.
The intent upon congressional passage of the Child Tax Credit was for it to be made permanent as a powerful anti-poverty tool, similar to the Earned Income Tax Credit that gives cash to low-income workers and has provided financial security for millions of people over decades. The concept of a child tax credit is akin to Social Security, which for generations has had a game-changing positive effect on the lives of our country’s seniors. The logic is that it’s about time to help our nation’s children in the same way. I wholeheartedly agree.
Opponents in Congress killed the child tax credit last year. And the payments to millions of parents abruptly stopped in December. Despite this minority of opponents, the child tax credit has broad support with many champions, including Congressmember Salud Carbajal, and there is hope it will be brought back. President Biden made yet another forceful push to bring the credit back last month’s State of the Union Address.
The reasons for such broad support are clear: There is now a proliferation of science about the damaging impact that even a short time in poverty in childhood can have for a lifetime. Child poverty tops the list of traumatic child experiences that have long-term ramifications, termed Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). These early experiences, including poverty, abuse, unstable homes, and mental illness, have been scientifically linked to a variety of adult conditions beyond economic status, ranging from depression to heart disease.
Poverty has a tight grip on our country and our county. The 2020 Census calculated a 15.2 percent poverty rate for Santa Barbara County, one of the highest rates in the state that has the highest rate in the country. That is 15 percent of our neighbors, friends, and family.
The FUND for Santa Barbara has released a Regional Equity Report that includes local data demonstrating that poverty impacts more women, especially women of color: “In Santa Barbara County, more than half (52 percent) of Latina women, 47 percent of Latino men, and 43 percent of Black women live below 200 percent of the federal poverty line, rates higher than any other group.”
There is no rational reason that any person who is working hard should be suffering from the chaos, health ramifications, loss of dignity, and so much more that is associated with poverty. Poverty impacts every aspect of our community: housing, homelessness, education, transportation, and health.
We know what works to combat poverty: smart policies like the child tax credit that have demonstrated effectiveness. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, “child poverty plunged from 17.6 percent in 2019 to 9 percent in fall of 2021.” Programs that prioritize children, like the CalFresh food assistance program and the child tax credit, effectively kept 19.7 percent of children (about 1.7 million out of nearly nine million children total) out of poverty in 2021.
Last year, in our county, according to Golden State Opportunity, 37,801 low-income households claimed $12,198,233 dollars from the California Earned Income Tax Credit and the Young Child Tax Credit. That’s $12 million from the state to help pay for the essentials, such as car repairs, paying down debt, medical expenses, and childcare.
I began my term as county supervisor in January; my top goal is to work with the community to combat poverty, starting with the tools we know work and the state and federal dollars that are already on the table. In the absence of the child tax credit, we must redouble our efforts to get more people to claim the other safety-net benefits they qualify for — specifically CalFresh and the Earned Income Tax Credit.
The Earned Income Tax Credit can provide up to $2,400 per year for those making minimum wage and slightly above, or earning approximately $30,000 annually. The challenge is that a quarter of Santa Barbarans who have earned this credit are missing out and not claiming it, forgoing hundreds if not thousands of dollars from the state and federal government.
We are partnering with the United Way of Santa Barbara County, CommUnify, Golden State Opportunity, and other nonprofit organizations to get the word out. If you have the interest in helping, we want to partner with you, too. Please contact me at email@example.com.
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