EITC provisions in ARRA reward work, help economy

Our analysis of Census Bureau data show that more than 36,180 Iowa families could benefit from the EITC improvements made by ARRA in 2009.

Andrew Cannon, research associate
Andrew Cannon

By acting this summer to extend selected provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), Congress would preserve critical work supports for low- and moderate-income working families — and help the economy.

One of those provisions is the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a bipartisan measure that keeps millions out of poverty, offsets payroll taxes and augments low wages, particularly for families with children.

The concept is simple: As low- and moderate-income adults work and increase their wages, they are eligible for a credit that rises, plateaus and then phases out as they reach closer to the range of middle-income earners. The credit is fully refundable, meaning that a family receives a check for the difference if their credit is larger than their income-tax liability.

In 2003, the EITC helped 4.4 million Americans escape poverty, including 2.4 million children. More children in the United States are lifted out of policy by the EITC than by any other social program.

Besides deterring poverty, the EITC encourages low-wage workers to work, because as their earnings rise at low wages, their EITC also grows.

ARRA — the federal recovery act passed in 2009 — offered the latest improvement to the EITC. ARRA created a new credit tier for families with three or more children. Families with two children can receive a maximum EITC of $5,028, while families with three or more children can receive a maximum EITC of $5,657 in 2009. ARRA further improved the EITC by expanding the amount of qualifying earnings for married couples filing their taxes jointly. The EITC will, without further action by Congress, revert to the pre-ARRA eligibility rules in 2011.

Thousands of Iowans claim the EITC each year. In 2006, the last year for which data is available, 177,329 Iowans claimed the EITC. The ARRA improvements will allow Iowans with three or more children to claim a slightly larger credit on their 2009 and 2010 tax returns. Married Iowans filing their taxes jointly will have a larger window in which to qualify for the maximum credit of $5,657.

Our analysis of Census Bureau data show that more than 36,180 Iowa families could benefit from the EITC improvements made by ARRA in 2009.

Extending ARRA improvements to the EITC would make those families better able to meet their household budgets, and because they can be expected to spend the money, those families could contribute more to their local economy.

Posted by Andrew Cannon, Research Associate

High stakes for Iowa in Congress’ decisions

Understanding these benefits and the consequences of losing them needs to be paramount in congressional decisions about temporary, targeted extensions of ARRA funding.

Andrew Cannon, research associate
Andrew Cannon

Today’s New York Times discusses a problem faced by 30 states — including Iowa.

State budgets have been put together assuming the extension of an increased reimbursement for Medicaid, a smart move for economic recovery and a necessary move to help states deal with the increased demands in a severe economic recession.

For Iowa, the loss of those dollars would cause a Medicaid deficit of almost $120 million, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.

When building the state’s 2011 fiscal year budget this spring, Iowa lawmakers assumed the federal government would extend a temporary increase in its share of Medicaid financing. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) temporarily increased the Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP), the portion of Medicaid financed by the federal government. That increase, however, expires in December 2010, right in the middle of Iowa’s fiscal year. Iowa and many other states expected this financing to continue as these needs have not subsided.

So far, however, Congress has not acted. Without an extension, Iowa faces a shortfall that at some point will need to be addressed, with cuts in services that could come both in and outside the Medicaid program. Either way, a cut would be bad for the economy, which has benefited from the infusion of federal dollars. Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell, in fact, warns in the New York Times story today that in his state, the cuts “would  actually kill everything the stimulus has done.” His concern is warranted.

Besides shoring up state revenues, as Iowa Fiscal Partnership reports have shown, ARRA has brought significant economic benefits to Iowa to enhance the prospects of a faster recovery. For the Medicaid match alone, IFP reported in Just What the Doctor Ordered:

Every federal dollar of economic stimulus invested in Medicaid yields about $1.68 in total output for the state of Iowa. Out of that dollar, 76 cents is returned to Iowa workers in the form of wages and salaries and incomes of small business owners.

ARRA — by providing dollars for Medicaid, unemployment insurance and food assistance — has come through with important resources for vulnerable Iowa families at a time they are most needed. At the same time, it has boosted the economy by increasing or maintaining spending by Iowans on goods and services, keeping people employed and spending their money in the economy.

Understanding these benefits and the consequences of losing them needs to be paramount in congressional decisions moving forward on temporary, targeted extensions of ARRA funding.

Posted by Andrew Cannon, Research Associate

Flush with awareness

While water quality has fresh international attention brought by the enormity of the BP disaster, we also need to be looking at what we’re doing right at home, little by little and day by day.

Mike Owen
Mike Owen

Today’s Cedar Rapids Gazette editorial spotlights the work of four West Branch Middle School students in illustrating for their community the water-quality impacts of drug disposal.

In West Branch, a small town east of Iowa City, the team of Kara Fountain, Allison Kusick, Gabby Salemink and Megan Tadlock brought awareness to the effects of everyday actions on our environment, actions we take for granted maybe just because of tradition.

Then, when we realize the impacts, we have to find acceptance of that reality, find a way to break old habits and find the willingness to adopt new solutions. Much of public policy works that way.

A couple of reports from the Iowa Policy Project underline the issues examined by the West Branch students. One report, last December, notes that pharmaceuticals are one segment of a class of organic water contaminants that are found from everyday household use and tend to resist traditional wastewater treatment. A previous report, in 2006, noted that Iowa water is not tested for many chemical compounds that had not been considered as contaminants — among them prescription drugs for humans and animals, as well as cosmetics, dyes, preservatives and detergents.

In short, we need a better understanding of what’s going into our water supplies, and what is worthy of concern. While water quality has fresh international attention brought by the enormity of the BP disaster, we also need to be looking at what we’re doing right at home, little by little and day by day.

The West Branch students, under the supervision of retiring science teacher Hector Ibarra, are among those adding to knowledge about these issues for all of us. They worked with the University of Iowa Hygenics Laboratory to look for traces of discarded medicines in processed sewer water. As the West Branch Times noted, they also hosted a day for local residents to bring unused and old pharmaceuticals to be incinerated.

These students are an example for all Iowans, let alone leaders among students, in their willingness to explore and put what they’ve learned into practice.

Posted by Mike Owen, Assistant Director

Governor signs significant boost for Iowa families

Lily French
Lily French

Monday marked the enactment of possibly the largest investment for working families resulting from this year’s legislative session.

Governor Culver signed into law an expansion of the Food Assistance program that will reach 26,212 more Iowans who are struggling to buy enough food, either because they are unemployed, underemployed or simply have too low of wages even while working full-time to meet their day-to-day living expenses.

Not only will this program change help to secure almost $18 million worth of food for Iowans, it will provide a needed boost to local economies throughout the state. In the end, this piece of legislation will generate $33 million in economic activity over the next year and for years to come.  Now, we just have to let people know that new supports are available to help them!

Posted by Lily French, Outreach Coordinator

Tax Day spin: Find refuge in the facts

It is quite possible there is no more heavily spun day on the calendar.

Mike Owen
Mike Owen

Today is, as we all know, “Tax Day,” the deadline for filing our federal individual income tax returns. It is quite possible there is no more heavily spun day on the calendar. You can’t even find refuge on the comics pages.

While the Tea Party folks and others have their spotlight today, take a few minutes to read this masterful year-old blog post from our friends at the Oklahoma Policy Institute: http://okpolicy.org/blog/taxes/classic-reruns-no-tax-day/

Beyond that perspective on the value of taxes in funding essential public services, other useful information also is worth considering today about who pays taxes. Citizens for Tax Justice, in a report this week about tax changes resulting from the recovery, or “stimulus,” legislation signed by President Obama last year, notes the following:

  • 99 percent of working families and individuals in Iowa benefited from at least one of the tax cuts signed into law by President Obama.
  • Working people in Iowa received $1,115, on average, from these breaks.
  • These tax breaks benefited working people at all income levels.

For the full report (3-page PDF) click here and for the Iowa-specific summary (4-page PDF) click here.

David Leonhardt of the New York Times and Ezra Klein of the Washington Post (whose blog links to Jon Stewart’s take of the situation on “The Daily Show”) illustrate that lower-income Americans pay taxes, even if others might not want to acknowledge it.

As Stewart suggests, actually getting the facts about who pays taxes — which also include federal payroll taxes and state and local taxes — might not fit the outrage being pushed at a given moment: “Knowing that doesn’t make you as mad, does it?”

Iowa Fiscal Partnership reports have shown state and local tax impacts are far greater as a proportion of income for low-income Iowans than for higher-income Iowans, while corporate-income-tax loopholes and other tax breaks are draining the state treasury with little accountability, and critical services are being cut.

All food for thought on this day.

Posted by Mike Owen, Assistant Director

Why Should Iowans Pay for Stockholders’ Interests?

If a nuclear feasibility study is needed for Iowa, it should be independently done.

Teresa Galluzzo
Teresa Galluzzo

MidAmerican Energy asked the Iowa Legislature for $15 million of ratepayer money, mine and yours, to explore whether it should build a nuclear plant in Iowa. While I firmly agree that Iowa ought to aggressively pursue options to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, I find it very unsettling that state lawmakers overwhelmingly approved this request.

MidAmerican Energy must put its shareholders’ interests first and thus the company’s feasibility study would necessarily prioritize how a nuclear plant would perform for stockholders before the impacts on rate-paying Iowans.

Even as a leader in wind-powered generation — 17 percent to 20 percent of our electricity production — and energy efficiency, both thanks, in part, to substantial efforts by MidAmerican Energy, Iowa must continue to evaluate its energy future, because we need to do more to address climate change. If it is necessary to study further whether new nuclear plants are a viable part of our generation mix, such research should be done by an independent group and include analysis of how nuclear would impact Iowans’ rates and safety.

Governor Culver should consider this before joining the General Assembly in a giveaway — from utility customers’ pockets — to MidAmerican Energy for a study that could perhaps be done by an independent group at less expense to Iowans.

Missing an opportunity for tax-credit reform?

Nothing is objectionable about proposed tax-credit reforms — but much more needs to be done.

Christine Ralston
Christine Ralston

Iowa is missing an opportunity to implement strong transparency measures and to recapture revenue that it has been allowing to slip away for years.

Legislation passed by the Senate and now before the House appears to make only small, cosmetic changes to a serious structural problem. Generous tax credits have been leaking revenue out of the state for many years. Considering the recent scandal in the film tax credit program and the fact that Iowa, like most other states, faces revenue shortfalls of historic proportions, the state very much needs meaningful reform.

The Governor’s Tax Credit Review Panel made promising recommendations, and the Governor supported those recommendations when he issued a call for action in his Condition of the State address. Yet, the legislative package falls far short of the panel’s recommendations. For example:

Table comparing tax-credit reform proposals

It is important to note that lowering a cap is not the same thing as “saving” money. When the sum of all business credit claims is not reaching that cap, then the state is only reducing its potential liability and not saving any actual dollars.

The proposal is also lacking in essential new transparency measures. No additional disclosures regarding tax credits and expenditures are proposed in the plan. Iowans should know who is getting their tax dollars.

And this bill is certainly not good news for the thousands of Iowans who are seeing important safety net programs and jobs disappear during this recession.

Does this bill do something? Yes. Does it do much? No. Nothing in this bill is objectionable when considering the principles of sound tax policy. That said, much more needs to be done to move Iowa forward and to solve Iowa’s budget problems using an approach that is truly balanced.

Posted by Christine Ralston, Research Associate