Opinion: Lawmakers have power to help CT families make ends meet

Isabel Almeida, president of United Way of Western Connecticut, at the 2020 Day of Action Community Food Drive in August, 2020.

Isabel Almeida, president of United Way of Western Connecticut, at the 2020 Day of Action Community Food Drive in August, 2020.

Contributed photo

At the United Way of Western Connecticut, we fight for the people in our region who work hard but struggle to make ends meet. Their hard-earned income barely covers essentials such as rent, food, utility bills, and transportation to and from work. We know from the 2020 Connecticut United Ways ALICE Report that 38 percent of Connecticut households were struggling to get by before the pandemic hit. Today, those numbers are far greater.

One way to help these struggling workers is through the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC). Our region, and indeed all of Connecticut and the nation, are facing a severe economic crisis due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The EITC helps low-wage workers during this challenging time by encouraging work, boosting incomes, and reducing poverty among families with children.

To help our hardworking neighbors and fortify the economy, we are asking legislators to consider the following:

 Expand the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for childless adult workers. This would supplement the limited earnings of struggling essential workers including those who prepare food, provide in-home health services and child care, and package and deliver goods. Because these single workers are largely excluded from the EITC, they are the only group in our country that is taxed into poverty. This makes it hard for them to pay their bills today and build financial stability to succeed in the future.

 In Connecticut, we should restore the EITC to 30 percent of a filer’s federal credit. Over 10 years, the EITC in Connecticut was reduced to 23 percent of the federal credit, putting us below the standard set by other states in the Northeast (Massachusetts, 30 percent; New York, 30 percent; New Jersey, 30 percent). By increasing the rate, we’ll put money into the pockets of those who need it the most ― and funnel money back into the struggling economy.

 Establish a Connecticut Child Tax Credit (CTC). Currently, Connecticut does not have a state-level CTC that mirrors the federal credit or any tax break, such as a child exemption or deduction, that eases the financial burden of raising children. Most states have some type of tax break for raising children. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have a Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, and six states have a Child Tax Credit. A Connecticut CTC would provide ALICE families with $600 to $1,800 of much-needed flexible income each year. For every CTC dollar a recipient earns, $1.38 is returned to the economy. (Moody’s Analytics estimate of financial multiplier)

 Expand access to dental benefits by allowing dependent children to retain dental coverage under their parents’ insurance policies until age 26 or until they obtain coverage through an employer. In 2008, the Connecticut General Assembly passed legislation allowing children to remain on their parents’ health plan until age 26, but dental coverage was not included. This causes confusion and leaves young people without access to important dental health services.

Expanding tax credits is an effective way to stimulate a weak economy while helping those whose work we depend on every day. Lower-income people tend to spend rather than save what modest income they have in order to meet basic needs. Providing dental care to young adults simply makes sense, especially at a time when they are struggling to break into the workforce and obtain a job with benefits.

We urge Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, Congresswoman Jahana Hayes, and Congressman Jim Himes to let the rest of Congress know how important the EITC and the CTC is for the people of Connecticut. And we urge all the state representatives and state senators who serve greater Danbury, greater New Milford, and Stamford to consider these important issues as the Connecticut legislative session gets into full swing.

Isabel Almeida is president of United Way of Western Connecticut.