Longtime General Assembly reformer writes op-ed targeting ‘effective tool in the battle against poverty’
By Ted Cox
A longtime reformer in the General Assembly is backing expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit to “help build a thriving middle class” in “the battle against poverty.”
Barbara Flynn Currie, who served as House majority leader before retiring from office two years ago, published an opinion column in Wednesday’s Chicago Tribune advocating expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, or the Earned Income Credit as it’s commonly known in Illinois.
Calling it “a targeted and effective tool in the battle against poverty,” she supported expanding both the size of and eligibility for tax rebates to low-income workers under the program, adding, “The priority for the General Assembly should be to help build a thriving middle class.”
The EITC dates back to the Nixon administration and University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman’s proposal for a reverse income tax as a way to provide relief for low-wage workers. Currie’s op-ed piece cites how President Ford first signed it into law in 1975, and it’s since had bipartisan support, enhanced by both Presidents Reagan and Obama.
The tax rebates phase out leading up to incomes of just under $60,000, and vary according to the size of a working family, but according to Currie they allow benefits of up to $6,600 for the federal EITC. Illinois has a matching program for up to 18 percent of the federal benefit, up to $1,550.
“For most families, this is the largest check they’ll get all year,” Currie wrote. “Many build their budgets around it.”
Former House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie speaks out about Illinois’ next budget in @ChicagoTribune. Her advice? “To help those who need help the most, I urge my former colleagues to expand the state’s Earned Income Credit (EIC)." https://t.co/O5frGXDNcb
— Economic Security for IL (@EconsecureIL) December 22, 2020
Currie’s op-ed column points out that workers under 24 and over 65 are currently ineligible, as are many taxpaying immigrants working legally in the United States and students receiving Monetary Award Program grants. She cites legislation already pending in the General Assembly to remove those exclusions in the state program, and another to double the state match to 36 percent of the federal program. One proposal would expand eligibility to workers 18 to 24 years old, while boosting the state match to 20 percent.
Currie also mentioned making family caregivers eligible, a proposal recently backed by both U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and state Sen. Ram Villivalam of Chicago.
The advocacy group Economic Security for Illinois has also backed expansion of the EIC, including making the rebates quarterly rather than in one lump sum payment at tax time, and the Pritzker administration has moved to streamline the process to take advantage of it, making it automatic for those who file for the federal benefit and also providing outreach to inform workers to take advantage of it in the first place.
An expanded Earned Income Credit could provide relief and make the state’s current flat tax more progressive even after voters rejected the Fair Tax Amendment that would have created a graduated income tax for the state in last month’s election. Currie, however, did not mention the possibility of a hike in the flat tax in her column.
Currie represented Chicago’s Hyde Park area in the state House for 40 years starting in 1979, retiring two years ago after more than two decades as House majority leader. She has remained active in government, for instance taking part in a preschool commission meeting last January before the pandemic hit.
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December 23, 2020 at 10:08AM