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Citizen's View: Congress should seize this chance to help families build their futures

Now that Congress has struck a budget deal that appears to avert a government shutdown later this year, it bears asking: Where else will lawmakers find common ground?

One proposal with apparent bipartisan support is an effort to make permanent certain tax breaks for corporations. But as this proposal benefiting corporations makes its way through Congress, there is a different tax proposal that deserves bipartisan support: legislation that would make permanent key improvements to tax credits for working families. These

tax credits benefit the families of

about 238,000 low-income children in Oregon. 

At a time when so many working families in Oregon and across the nation are struggling to get by, it is imperative that lawmakers take action. Congress has a great opportunity to help working families build a future by making permanent critical improvements to the federal Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. Together, they

allow low-income workers to keep more of what they earn and are among the nation’s strongest tools for promoting work and helping working families escape poverty and achieve self-sufficiency.

By helping families, these tax subsidies help kids. Between 2011 and 2013, the EITC and CTC lifted an average of 129,000 Oregonians out of poverty each year. And the benefits of these tax credits for working families extend well beyond the additional dollars and cents in each paycheck. Mothers who receive these tax credits tend to be healthier and give birth to healthier children. Plus, children in low- and moderate-income families that receive these boosts do better in school and go on to earn more as adults. 

A few years back, Congress improved these tax credits to make them work even better for working families. They reduced the “marriage penalty,” increased the credit for families with more children and expanded eligibility to the lowest-income families. In short, these improvements are critical to maintaining safe, stable and economically self-sufficient families for Oregon’s most vulnerable children and setting the children up for success later in life.

Unfortunately, these improvements for children and families were only temporary and will expire if Congress fails to act. That would have catastrophic consequences for Oregon families, pushing about 164,000 people into — or deeper into — poverty. That’s a lot of Oregonians — about as many as the number of people who live in Eugene, our state’s second-largest city. 

Almost half of those pushed into or deeper into poverty would be children. And many thousands more children living near the poverty line would see their parents lose some or all of their tax credits.

We urge the Oregon delegation to fight to make sure that any tax deal that comes out of Congress includes making permanent the improvements to tax credits for working families. 

Certainly, if Congress is prepared to make tax subsidies for corporations permanent, it should not leave working families behind. At the very least, working families — and their children — deserve equal treatment.

 Tonia Hunt is executive director of Children First for Oregon (www.cffo.org). Chuck Sheketoff is executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy (www.ocpp.org).