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Opinion: Expand the EITC to help hard-working Idahoans

For nearly 70 years, United Way of Treasure Valley has fought for the men and women who work hard at low-wage jobs yet barely make ends meet. Today, more than one-third of Idaho households struggle financially each month, according to the United Way ALICE Report. Despite being employed, many workers all across our state find it nearly impossible to cover even essentials such as food, transportation to and from work, and electric bills.
 
United Way helps struggling workers in our community by connecting them with the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)—one of our most effective tools to keep people working and help them get a fair shot at a stable life. 
 
In 2016, United Way of Treasure Valley helped connect hundreds of local individuals and families to the EITC through MyFreeTaxes.com, which allows people who earn less than $64,000 a year to file their state and federal taxes for free. In Idaho, 130,000 total households claimed the EITC last year, using refunds to provide for their families and themselves. 
 
Just as important, though, is the number of struggling workers that we can’t help because the EITC is largely unavailable to them. Right now, the EITC shuts out millions of working Americans nationwide who are not raising children. This includes noncustodial parents who want to provide extra support to their children but receive very little from the EITC, and childless workers ages 21-24—many of whom struggle to find footing in the workforce—are ineligible. 
 
Because these workers are largely excluded from the EITC, they are the only group in our country that is taxed into or deeper into poverty. Our tax policy should boost workers, not leave them behind. And, our nation’s leaders have the chance to fix this. 
 
Right now, bipartisan proposals are pending in Congress to improve the EITC for workers not raising children by lowering the eligibility age to 21 and increasing the maximum credit amount.
 
In Idaho, expanding the EITC to include workers not raising children would give an estimated 64,000 working people, including 5,000 veterans and military workers, the financial stability to cover the basics, build a better future for themselves and their loved ones, and contribute more to our economy.  
 
At United Way of Treasure Valley, we know these aren’t just numbers. They are real people with real stories. A stronger EITC would reward the hard work of people in the Treasure Valley and across Idaho—young and old, male and female, from every background—who do essential, low-wage jobs in schools and office buildings and health care settings and on construction sites to keep our state running. 
 
As U.S. Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Representatives Mike Simpson and Raul Labrador look for ways to help hardworking Americans, they should support expanding the EITC for workers not raising children. Workers in Idaho and across the country are counting on them.  
 
Nora Carpenter is the president and CEO of United Way of Treasure Valley.