The Earned Income Tax Credit already helps remedy our income inequality -- but state action in the Assembly could help it support even more households and struggling children, says educator Rosalyn Turner.

/By Rosalyn Turner/ Although having great teachers is a very important factor in a child’s education, the devastating forces of poverty in our society can in many cases override a good teacher’s best efforts. There is an abundance of evidence showing the lifelong consequences poverty has on children, from diminished academic aptitude to impaired psychosocial development. In my classroom in Prince George’s, the immediate consequences of poverty in a classroom can be seen in shortened attention spans, irritability due to external stress or hunger, and lack of interest due to lack of hope.

 Poverty and its consequences are complicated. There may not be any quick fixes, especially taking into account the political realities we currently face. However, there is one solution that at least begins to address the problem and enjoys strong bipartisan support. In his state of the union address, President Obama made reference to the Earned Income Tax Credit or EITC, calling on Congress to expand this highly effective refundable credit. Congress should absolutely do this, and an increased effort to inform eligible families should be made. Even in its current form, the EITC provides much needed financial resources to low- and moderate-wage workers, yet roughly 1 in 5 do not take advantage of it.

 The EITC has been in force since 1975 and Rep. Elijah Cummings recently said “the EITC is now one of the most critical lifelines for Americans living in or at the edge of poverty.” The EITC helps working families afford essential needs like car repairs or paying down debt by providing up to $6,242 in the form of a tax refund. In Maryland, approximately 40,000 workers received an average of $2,335 from the EITC in 2014. The result, nationwide, is over 9 million people are lifted out of poverty, including 5 million children. Research demonstrates that the children of workers receiving the EITC do better in school, are more likely to attend college, and even earn higher wages as adults. A credit of $3,000 in a child’s early years is equivalent to obtaining an additional 2 months of education as measured by improved academic achievement.

 Maryland, like about half the states, provides a state EITC to complement the federal EITC. Filers receive a percent of the federal qualification. This tax credit is limited to persons with children. Fortunately, the state tax credit will be increased this year from 25 percent to 28 percent of the federal EITC. This is a move that would not have come until 2018 but for an agreement by state legislative leaders and Gov. Larry Hogan. (SB 0384; HB 0452).

 In addition, Sen. Rich Madaleno has filed a bill (SB 0294) that would be a bigger and more positive move to reduce poverty, raising the match with the federal EITC to 100 percent and expanding eligibility to single persons of a lower age. As Rep. Cummings said, this change “could help young adults establish a foothold for their future. …Adopting these measures would establish Maryland as a national leader in using this proven tool to help combat poverty.”

 The IRS recommends all families earning $53,267 or less use their EITC Assistant tool to determine if they are eligible for the credit. Taxes must be filed (even if one is not legally required to do so) to actually receive the benefits of the EITC.  Free tax preparation sites or free online filing options from the IRS are available.

 There is a huge problem with qualifying workers not filing for the EITC because they simply do not know about it or assume they aren’t eligible. As a working group evaluation of the state EITC pointedly said, there is no state agency charged with reaching out with this information. Neither the bipartisan bill nor Madaleno’s bill addresses that problem.

 As a teacher, I feel a responsibility to educate others and help them reach their full potential. The EITC helps do just that. The emotional lift the family feels by having the extra money can help students experience a sense of social inclusion that might otherwise elude them. Giving parents the opportunity to provide them with some of their wants and not just their needs can be a morale booster, and a good morale in class can be an important academic booster that paves the way for lifelong achievement.