One of the greatest tragedies of our lifetime is the rampant growth of child poverty in this country. It is a moral, political and humanitarian failure right here in one of the richest countries in the world. Currently, nearly half of Michigan’s children live in working poverty – their families struggle to meet their basic needs. For black and Hispanic children, that number is even higher, reaching 71% and 58%, respectively. It is clear: we are in the midst of a crisis. We need solutions.
Children in our state live with the negative consequences of child poverty through no fault of their own, and they deserve solutions. They face enormous challenges, ranging from negative school results to drastically reduced life expectancies. They live in a world of constant insecurity, fear and hunger and need our help. Soon, the universal school lunch program that has kept so many families afloat during the pandemic is set to expire if Congress doesn’t act. Families in poverty need our help.
Here in Michigan, we’ve been working on a number of initiatives to get child poverty under control, like expanding child care subsidies and universal preschool, but it’s clear that more is needed. The expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), one of the most powerful tools in our anti-poverty arsenal, must be part of these measures. That’s why I recently sponsored a bill to restore it to its original level of 20% of the federal EITC. That move alone would lift 22,000 Michiganders out of poverty and send 730,000 families an average refund of about $3,000 — money they badly need to fight rising inflation and other costs.
The EITC, unlike targeted relief programs like SNAP or Medicaid, gives families the flexibility to spend their money however they see fit. This does not limit their spending to just one area, but allows them to spend on what they need most. Direct cash transfers have proven to be among the most effective anti-poverty measures around the world because they give money to the people who know what these families need most: the families themselves. The EITC avoids the pitfalls common to aid programs, such as costly and ever-expanding bureaucracy and endless bureaucracy.
Not only would restoring the EITC to its original level lift millions of children out of poverty, it would also help the small local businesses they patronize to thrive. Many Chambers of Commerce, including the Grand Rapids Chamber, have announced their support for the expansion of the EITC into Michigan. They did this because they understand what a boon it would be to our local communities. This would support our declining middle class and directly pump money back into our economy. The EITC is tax relief for those who need it most.
Poverty is not a partisan issue. It is a moral failing that has gone on in this country for far too long. No child deserves to be born into a world where their basic needs are not met, especially in a country as wealthy as the United States. Expanding the EITC and other anti-poverty measures is our first step to ensuring this does not happen. Regardless of your political beliefs, we can all agree that children should not be punished for being born poor. It doesn’t matter what their parents did or didn’t do. They are children. We have a responsibility to ensure that they are welcome in the American dream just as much as the rest of us.
State Representative Rachel Hood represents Michigan’s 76and District, which covers parts of Grand Rapids.