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Guest opinion: Let's invest in Montana's working families

Guest opinion: Let's invest in Montana's working families

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CAROL BURTON

United Way focuses on the basic building blocks of a good quality of life: education, income and health. It isn’t often that we have the chance to support public policy that can address all three.

This year, the Montana Legislature has an opportunity to strengthen low- and moderate-income working families by creating a state version of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The Senate is considering SB156, and the House is considering HB391, both of which will help Montana working families make ends meet and substantially improve the lives of children, families, and communities across Montana.

The federal EITC helps boost the incomes of low- and moderate-income working families. Its most significant beneficiaries are children. In 2015 alone, the federal EITC lifted more than 3.3 million children out of poverty. The EITC is available only to working families, and has been incredibly effective. Most recipients receive the credit for just one to two years, and then no longer need it.

Recognizing that the EITC is one of the country’s most successful anti-poverty policies, more than half of states have now enacted their own working families credit. It is Montana’s time to do the same and help nearly 80,000 working Montana families.

The federal EITC improves financial stability and independence of individuals and families. Recipients report using their credit to pay bills, fix their cars, pay for braces or summer camps for their children, and make other smart investments. A state EITC is a cost-effective way to further help families catch up on bills and cover other family necessities.

A state EITC could also improve children’s education. Studies show that children’s school performance improves when their family’s income increases. Down the road, this investment continues to pay off. Studies show children whose families received the credit are more likely to attend college and earn more as adults. By the time they reach 25, they can actually earn 17 percent more than they would have without the EITC.

A state EITC would also promote better health. In the 1990s, researchers found that healthier babies were born to mothers who received the EITC, in comparison to those who struggled without financial assistance. The mothers also were healthier. Years later, children whose families receive the credit are less likely to develop illnesses associated with childhood poverty. Families see lifelong benefits when children have a strong, healthy start.

Montana’s families living in poverty have some of the highest tax liabilities of nearly any state in the nation. A state EITC would make life easier for these working families. Research shows a state EITC can actually help reduce the number of people who receive cash welfare assistance.

If our legislators truly want to improve the lives of working families across the state, they should seize this opportunity to create a state EITC. There is no better work they can do than improving the lives of our children. Income, education, and health, all in one. It's a great investment.

 Carol Burton is president and chief executive officer, United Way of Yellowstone County. She wrote this in collaboration with Susan Hay Patrick, chief executive officer, United Way of Missoula County. This guest opinion also was signed by the presidents of United Way organizations in Bozeman, Helena, Great Falls and Kalispell.

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