By Christine Robere, President & CEO, United Way of the Lakeshore
(MUSKEGON, MI) — At the United Way of the Lakeshore we fight for many working women and men who work hard at low-wage jobs yet can barely make ends meet. They find it nearly impossible to cover even essentials such as food, transportation to and from work, and electric bills. We know them as ALICE – Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. They work in all areas of our economy and throughout our community.
One way we help struggling workers in our community is by connecting them with the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). It’s one of our most effective tools to keep people working and help them get a fair shot at a decent life. Each year we connect individuals and families to the EITC through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program run locally by Goodwill Industries. Last year, this resulted in more than $2 million coming back to our community. All it takes is a simple call to 2-1-1 to schedule a VITA appointment to help prepare one’s taxes. There are income eligibility requirements for the free service.
Though many will qualify, the EITC entirely shuts out millions of working people who are not raising children. For example, noncustodial parents who want to provide more support to their children receive very little from the credit, and young childless workers aged 21-24—many of whom are struggling to get a foothold in the workforce—are completely ineligible for the EITC.
Expanding the EITC to include workers not raising children would give more working people in our area the financial stability to cover the basics, build a better future for themselves and their loved ones, and contribute more to our local economy. Studies show that the EITC helps working people buy necessities like food and gas from local businesses, which in turn helps our local economy grow.
At United Way of the Lakeshore we know these aren’t just numbers. They are real people with real stories. A stronger EITC would reward the hard work of people—young and old, male and female, from every background—who do essential, low-wage jobs in schools and office buildings and on construction sites to keep our economy running.
As our leaders in Washington, D.C. look for ways to help hardworking people like ALICE in the next year, we hope that they support expanding the EITC for workers not raising children. It’s good for workers and its good for our local economy.