Legislative Building 2

The Legislative Building in Olympia, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

Many of us could use a paycheck boost. Childcare costs around Yakima are rising, affordable housing is harder to find, and for many, wages just aren’t keeping up. It’s even harder when you’re paying an inequitable share of state and local taxes. If you’re a low-income worker in Washington, you could be paying as much as six times the share of your income than the wealthiest Washingtonians pay. This isn’t right.

The Legislature is considering a simple way to support workers and fix our unfair tax code with the Working Families Tax Credit. The credit would refund a portion of state taxes to low- and middle- income earners — an average of $350 a year, or up to $970 for families. It would be a solid income boost for thousands of Yakima workers, from manufacturing and agricultural workers to retail employees.

I remember when $350 would have made a big difference in my life. A few years ago, a loved one was diagnosed with a mental illness. Not only was this experience traumatic, but it drained our savings. A little extra to be able to pay for a medical bill can make a real difference in working people’s lives.

The expanded Working Families Tax Credit from Rep. Debra Entenman and Sen. Joe Nguyen would make the tax code more fair by including many people who pay state and local taxes but currently are excluded from the federal version, the Earned Income Tax Credit — an exclusion that is unfair and perpetuates inequities in our tax code, particularly for communities of color.

If and when lawmakers decide to pass and fund it, the state credit would be open to family caregivers, low-income workers without children, low-income college students, and immigrant workers, including those who file taxes with an Individual Tax Identification Number, or ITIN.

As an immigrant Latina woman and former undocumented worker in Yakima, I learned how challenging it can be to contribute to the economy, pay state and local taxes like everyone else, but still not be able to make ends meet. There comes a point when you realize that you will not see a return on your hard-earned money no matter how hard you work or how many hours you put in a company.

Even with a college degree, the more hours I worked and the more money I earned, the more taxes I paid without receiving the same benefits as other taxpayers. I came to a realization that the “American Dream” only applied to certain people. It was difficult seeing my tax dollars go into other places and other people’s pockets. It’s not OK to pay taxes and not be able to access benefits that other workers can, like the EITC.

I was one of the “lucky ones” to receive a work authorization card through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2013, which means I would now qualify if I needed it. Today, I wouldn’t need the state tax credit, but I know many in my community will, and I advocate for them, because I will never forget how it felt to be in need.

Washington lawmakers should pass a modern and fully funded Working Families Tax Credit to make sure our tax code is working for more Washingtonians. And then they must work in the future to make it more equitable by including everyone.

Rocío Carrión is the Washington state associate campaign director for MomsRising and executive director and co-founder of I AM Empowerment LLC.