Camas resident Rebecca Keith addresses an element of the Washington State Legislature’s approved biennial budget
Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are those of the author alone and do not reflect the editorial position of ClarkCountyToday.com
The Washington State Legislature’s recently approved biennial budget included historic investments for people in our state struggling to make ends meet – in part by including a new commonsense tax on extraordinary profits that would make our tax code more equitable. Yet a question continues to persist in opinion pages and on social media, asking where the tax relief is for people with low incomes.
To answer that question: There are several ways the recently passed state budget ensures access to cash and financial relief for families and individuals who are struggling, including through a bipartisan tax credit for households with low wages. To elaborate:
• Lawmakers enacted the Working Families Tax Credit, benefiting 1 in 6 households with direct cash. The Working Families Tax Credit will annual provide tax rebates up to $1,200 for approximately 420,000 Washington state households. This policy will reach the households of 1 in 4 kids in our state who are having a hard time making ends meet. The updated version that passed with overwhelming bipartisan majorities expanded the tax credit to include people who file their taxes with an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN), which includes some survivors of domestic violence, certain student visa holders, and many immigrants who are undocumented. This tax credit will notably lower the state’s effective tax rate for those with the lowest incomes.
• They increased support for child care. The high cost of child care is a huge expense for working families. With the passage of the Fair Start Act, the legislature made a dramatic investment in child care and early learning by increasing eligibility for subsidized child care and reducing the amount families owe in copays. This means a household of three earning nearly $65,000 would now qualify for support. And the act charts a path to significantly increasing eligibility for child care subsidies through 2027.
• The budget increases support for parents with kids in poverty. The legislature approved a 15% increase to the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash grant for families, a program that supports many families struggling to get by, fleeing domestic violence, or living with disabilities. The TANF grant has remained largely unchanged since its inception in 1996, so this critical increase will help ensure families can better pay for rent and pay for essentials like diapers and wipes for newborns. The legislature also continued to suspend some of the harsh restrictions in the program during this time of economic hardship.
• And it provides pandemic relief for immigrant workers who are left out of stimulus efforts. The legislature rightly provided $340 million for the Washington’s Immigrant Relief Fund, which provides access to cash for undocumented workers who have been unjustly barred from receiving federal stimulus payments – even as many of them have shouldered the worst impacts of the economic downturn as essential workers.
In sum, investments like these will lead to greater financial stability for people with low-incomes in our state, including many who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color as well as immigrants. Moreover, the legislature’s capital gains tax – which will be paid by around 7,000 of the wealthiest households, many of whom have profited from the pandemic – ensures our state can make meaningful investments in economic security for everyone by asking those with the most to make a more equitable contribution to our state’s tax base.
Each of these items on their own are meaningful investments in people with low incomes in Washington state. Taken together – and combined with a high-end capital gains tax – they make critical steps to ensuring a more prosperous and thriving state for all of us.