Rents are climbing in Yakima, food prices are going up, and wages aren’t keeping up with the rising cost of living. And our upside-down tax code — that asks those with the least to pay the most as a share of income — only makes matters worse for families throughout the region who are struggling to make ends meet. A new policy that would boost incomes for lower- and moderate-income workers would help: The Working Families Tax Credit.
The Washington state Working Families Tax Credit builds on the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), one of the most successful federal programs to lift families out of poverty. The Working Families Tax Credit, which is being considered by the state legislature right now, would put cash back into the pockets of workers who most need it. It’s simple: if you work and earn low wages, you’d receive a state credit averaging $350 per year. If you have kids, you get more, up to $970 per year. That money can make a real difference for families who are having trouble affording a roof over their heads or food on the table.
Currently, 25,528 Yakima County households (9,207 in the city of Yakima) receive the federal EITC. And even more people would qualify for the state-level Working Families Tax Credit, which would expand upon the federal version. So families throughout Yakima county and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation would see a meaningful cost-of-living boost from this credit. Research shows this credit would also have an outsized positive impact on communities of color — which would of course be especially meaningful in Yakima, where 33 percent of the population identifies as people of color and 41 percent identify as Hispanic/Latino.
One of us, Gabriela Lomeli, knows well what it’s like to work to make ends meet in the Yakima Valley. Gabriela is a certified nursing assistant making low wages and her husband works in construction. The Working Families Tax Credit would help her family cover rent and pay bills in short months and help feed her four children.
This policy would also importantly extend eligibility to immigrant workers, family caregivers, low-income workers without children, and low-income college students, all groups who pay a disproportionate share of state and local taxes but are excluded from the federal program. As such, it would be an important step toward rebalancing our state’s inequitable tax code in which low-wage workers pay a significantly larger percentage of their income in taxes (about 18 percent) than top earners (only 3 percent). The tax code has for too long been holding back people with low incomes as well as people of color — who are more likely to have low incomes because of racist policies like redlining and barriers to education and employment.
Including immigrant workers in this policy is especially meaningful for our region. When Gabriela emigrated here from Jalisco, Mexico, she had a hard time getting anything but a minimum wage job. Although low-wage jobs have made money tight for her family, this hardworking mother has lived in Yakima now for 28 years, contributing to the economy and community here.
It’s the stories of women like Gabriela and so many others that have led to a wide range of statewide organizations, including the Washington State Budget & Policy Center, OneAmerica, and the Statewide Poverty Action Network, to come together to call for enacting this credit.
HB 1527 is scheduled to be heard Thursday in the House Committee on Finance. It’s time to ensure our tax code no longer holds back people who are already struggling to make ends meet. Lawmakers must enact the modern Working Families Tax Credit this session.
• Gabriela Lomeli has been a Yakima resident for 28 years and has worked as a home care worker for the past 16 years. Misha Werschkul is the executive director of the Washington State Budget & Policy Center, a nonpartisan research and policy organization.