By Lucy Marcil, MD, MPH
As a pediatrician, I never thought I’d be excited about the tax code. I care about childhood obesity, asthma, rising rates of autism, but taxes? In the last four years, though, I’ve learned tax credits are one of the most powerful tools we have to improve child health in this country; and that pediatricians can help.
The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a federal refundable credit for working, low and moderate income Americans, promotes health and saves lives. It is our country’s most impactful program tackling poverty for children and families. In 2014 alone, EITC lifted 3.5 million children and their families out of poverty. Nonpartisan research shows EITC reduces infant death, improves maternal mental health, improves K-12 school performance and increases employment of single mothers.
Consider Beatrice. She brought her 3-year-old grandson, for whom she is the primary caregiver, into our clinic at Boston Medical Center. She earned $9,000 per year in her part-time, minimum wage job, which made it nearly impossible to afford food, rent, and keep her young child warm in the winter. Like 16 million other kids in the U.S., poverty compromised the health of Beatrice’s grandson. Most doctors can’t write a prescription to cover these challenges, but BMC pediatricians can—through free tax prep.
After filing her taxes with help from a trained, IRS-certified volunteer, a novel model for IRS-sponsored Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites, Beatrice received $2,400 in tax refunds. She used that money to buy previously unaffordable “luxuries” for her grandson, including fresh fruits and vegetables and warm winter clothes —investments needed for his healthy brain and body development.
This tax season, let’s all celebrate the power of EITC, a bipartisan, anti-poverty, pro-work tax credit, to improve the future of families – a goal we all can agree upon. Massachusetts is already a leader in this work. Governor Baker and the state legislature are strong supporters of EITC. Four years ago, they increased the state EITC from 15 percent to 23 percent of the federal credit and, just last year, increased the credit to 30 percent of the federal credit. This means over 400,000 hard working families will receive an additional $400 on average at tax time next year.
But there’s more work to be done. People across the state with the Healthy Families EITC Coalition have come together to raise our voices for improvements to EITC that promote health. We have the opportunity to raise our state EITC to 50 percent, which would make it the highest state credit in the nation. We also have the chance to provide state funding for VITA sites, just like the one benefiting Beatrice and her grandson. Finally, we need to improve eligibility rules for the state EITC so all workers with low to moderate incomes who pay taxes in Massachusetts can claim the credit.
America is a country that believes in the power of hard work. Our families are working hard. As one mother told us, “I’m financially struggling every week, every time that I get paid. Even though I’m at work every single day, financially [it’s hard] with me paying my rent, my car bill, and other bills… And now that I do have an older child that’s in college, it is even more stressful. So every week, I’m just struggling to make ends meet.”
Let’s use our collective voices and talk to our legislators to ensure Massachusetts is a state in which those who work hard can make ends meet. Beatrice’s grandson and millions of other children depend on it.
Author: Lucy Marcil, MD, MPH, Pediatrician at Boston Medical Center, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine, and Co-Founder/Co-Director of StreetCred, a free tax preparation service integrated into pediatric clinics (www.mystreetcred.org).