Anti-poverty Programs Lift about 830,000 Wisconsinites above Poverty Line
Speaker Ryan and other conservatives are calling for sweeping changes that would seriously weaken safety net programs, and a core argument for those changes is way off the mark.
In early June, Ryan and other House Republicans issued a report about reforming public assistance programs that contends that despite decades of substantial federal spending for safety net programs, “the official poverty rate in 2014 (14.8%) was no better than it was in 1966 (14.7%), when many of these programs started.”
At first blush, that sounds like a compelling argument, but it’s a red herring. Speaker Ryan’s claim is based on the official poverty measure, which seems logical. But that gauge of poverty, established by the Census Bureau in the 1960s, measures cash income only and excludes many forms of public assistance. As the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities points out about this poverty measure:
“…it ignores virtually all anti-poverty assistance created or expanded over the past half century, while counting the main form of assistance cut sharply over this period – cash assistance for families with children.
An Increased EITC for Childless Adults Would Reduce Poverty and Enjoys Bipartisan Support
Income inequality has been on the minds of many voters during the presidential primaries. If you think it’s only a concern of Democrats, take a look at the results of the most recent “Wisconsin Survey” – a St. Norbert’s poll conducted for Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television. The survey last week of 616 registered Wisconsin voters found that 66% favor “increasing taxes on wealthy Americans and large corporations in order to help reduce income inequality in the U.S.,” compared to only 28% who said they were opposed.
There are lots of different ways to adjust taxes (and labor policy) to reduce income inequality. Unfortunately, most of those – such as closing corporate tax loopholes and increasing the minimum wage – have little chance in Congress right now. But one promising policy option that does have a chance is to provide a significant increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for adults who don’t have dependent children. Read more
The Earned Income Tax Credit helps working families all across the state, and gives an especially large boost to families in northern and rural Wisconsin, according to recently-released information from the state’s Department of Revenue.
The EITC is a tax credit that benefits working parents who are struggling to make ends meet. Receiving the credit is associated with a whole host of positive outcomes for children and families, including helping children do better in school, raising college attendance rates, and improving the health of family members.
The number of families in Wisconsin that are strengthened by the EITC is substantial. In 2014, 253,000 of the total 2.9 million tax returns filed in Wisconsin included the EITC. That translates to 753,000 people in Wisconsin living in families that received the EITC. Those families received $99.6 million in EITC credits for 2014 – money they could use to make investments that help them keep working and improve the economic security of their family, such as paying for car repairs or saving for their children’s college educations. Read more
The Joint Finance Committee will vote Thursday on whether to divert more funds from the federal welfare reform block grant to help finance unrelated parts of the state budget. The amount of those funds transferred to the Department of Revenue (DOR) has already been increased dramatically in each of the last two budgets. $62.5 million per year from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) block grant is being used to replace state funding for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and that maneuver reduces the funding available for important programs to assist vulnerable low-income families.
According to a Legislative Fiscal Bureau paper (#215) , federal law would allow the state to transfer up to $12.3 million more to DOR in the next biennium, in order to back out state General Fund dollars for the EITC.
Optimally, legislators should decrease the use of TANF funding for the EITC, which is what the Department of Children and Families (DCF) proposed last fall in the budget request they submitted to the Department of Administration. Read more
Legislators Can Avoid Deep Cuts without Raising Taxes
Wisconsin needs a budget that invests in the building blocks of a strong economy. Healthy families, safe and stable communities, and a well-educated workforce are assets critical to helping Wisconsin remain an attractive place to live, raise families, and do business. By strengthening these resources, the state budget can lay the groundwork for broad-based prosperity and an economy that works for everyone.
Unfortunately, the budget proposed by the Governor makes deep and unnecessary cuts to investments vital to Wisconsin’s long-term economic success. For example, the proposed budget would reduce resources for public education – a cut that would come on top of dramatic reductions in resources that have already occurred. The budget would also make deep cuts in state support for the University of Wisconsin System, giving a tremendous blow to one of the engines of Wisconsin’s long-term prosperity. The proposed budget would also make it harder for people with disabilities to get the help they need to contribute to their communities. Read more
State Faces Gap of More than $2.4 Billion between Now and June 2017
State officials confirmed today what we have feared for many months – that Wisconsin’s spending needs in the next biennium far exceed the projected revenue, and the state must also close a very substantial budget hole in the current fiscal year. As a result, lawmakers are likely to make cuts that have harmful consequences for Wisconsin children and families and for the investments needed to keep Wisconsin economically competitive.
Despite the assurances of Walker administration officials over the last couple of months that the state is in strong fiscal shape, the figures contained in a report released by the Department of Administration (DOA) today confirm that balancing the state budget in 2015-17 will require very deep spending cuts or significant tax increases. Specifically, the DOA document reveals the following:
- Tax revenue for the current fiscal year is now expected to be $82 million below the amount estimated in May (on top of a $281 million tax shortfall in the first half of the biennium), and net appropriations are estimated to be $43 million less.
TANF Funding Squeeze Creates a Substantial Budget Challenge
The Department of Children and Families (DCF) budget proposes a very large cut in the portion of funding for the Earned Income Tax Credit that comes from the federal welfare reform block grant, which is known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Specifically, the department’s 2015-17 budget proposes cutting $55.8 million from the TANF funding that gets transferred to the Department of Revenue, which would mean that state General Purpose Revenue (GPR) has to fill the very substantial gap.
Assuming the Walker Administration isn’t planning to cut the EITC, I applaud DCF for wanting to use state funds rather than TANF funds to finance that credit for low-income working families. Unfortunately, the Department of Revenue (DOR) budget proposal doesn’t currently include an increased GPR appropriation for the EITC. Taking both agency proposals together, we have a $55.8 million hole that needs to be filled by state policymakers, and that problem is on top of the other structural budget challenges that have gotten more media attention. Read more
Increasing Both the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Minimum Wage Would Strengthen Wisconsin’s Families
State lawmakers who want to help Wisconsin families recover from the recession should move to boost both the state’s earned income tax credit and its minimum wage. Each policy on its own helps make work pay for families struggling on low wages, but improving them at the same time goes further to putting working families on the path to economic security and opportunity, according to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Low wages make it hard for working families to afford basics like decent housing in a safe neighborhood, nutritious food, reliable transportation, quality child care, or educational opportunities that put families on a path to greater economic security.
But, state lawmakers have tools that can help address stagnant low wages. One, increase the state Earned Income Tax Credit. Two, raise the state minimum wage and make future increases automatic to keep up with inflation
These policies both are targeted to assist only those who are working, helping them to better afford basic necessities, including the things that allow them to keep working, like car repairs and child care. Read more
Targeted tax credits are far more effective than broad-based income tax cuts in keeping taxes affordable for working families, according to a new report from the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy. Wisconsin could cut taxes for working families by making improvements to its Earned Income Tax Credit, for a small portion of the cost of the recent across-the-board tax cuts in Wisconsin.
To be eligible for Wisconsin’s EITC, taxpayers must be working and must be parents. The EITC encourages work, helps families lift children out of poverty, and has long-term benefits on school achievement and health for children whose families receive the credit.
In Wisconsin, as in virtually every other state, the taxpayers who earn the least pay a greater share of their income in state and local taxes than taxpayers with the highest incomes. In Wisconsin, taxpayers in the bottom 20% — a group with incomes of less than $21,000 – pay 9.6% of their income in taxes, compared to just 6.8% of income for taxpayers in the top 1%, as shown in the chart below. Read more