One of the biggest tragedies of our lifetimes is the rampant growth of childhood poverty in this country. It is a moral, political and humanitarian failure right here in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Currently, almost half of Michigan’s children are living in working poverty — their families struggling to meet their basic necessities. For Black and Hispanic children, that number is even higher, reaching 71% and 58%, respectively. It’s clear: We are in the midst of a crisis. We need solutions.
Our state’s children live with the negative consequences of childhood poverty through no fault of their own, and they deserve solutions. They face enormous challenges, from negative educational outcomes to dramatically lower life expectancies. They live in a world of constant insecurity, fear and hunger and need our help. Soon, the universal school lunch program that kept so many families afloat during the pandemic is set to expire if Congress doesn’t act. Families in poverty need our help.
Here in Michigan, we’ve been working on a number of initiatives to bring childhood poverty under control, like expanding child care subsidies and universal pre-K, but it’s clear that more is needed. Expansion of the earned income tax credit (EITC), one of the strongest tools in our arsenal in the fight against poverty, needs to be among those measures. That is why I recently sponsored a bill to restore it to its original level of 20% of the federal EITC. That move alone would lift 22,000 Michiganders out of poverty and send 730,000 families an average refund of around $3,000 — money that they drastically need to battle rising inflation and other costs.
The EITC, unlike targeted relief programs like SNAP or Medicaid, gives families the flexibility to spend their money how they see fit. It doesn’t constrain their spending to one area but allows them to spend on what they need most. Direct cash transfers have been proven to be some of the most effective anti-poverty measures across the globe because they give money to the people that know what these families need the most: the families themselves. The EITC avoids the pitfalls common to aid programs like ever-expanding, expensive bureaucracy and endless red tape.
Not only would restoring the EITC to its original level lift millions of children out of poverty, but it would also help the small, local businesses they patronize thrive. Numerous chambers of commerce, including Grand Rapids’, have announced their support for expanding the EITC in Michigan. They did so because they understand what a huge boon it would be for our local communities. It would buoy our sinking middle class and put money directly back into our economy. The EITC is tax relief targeted at the people who need it the most.
Poverty isn’t a partisan issue. It’s a moral failure that has been perpetuated in this country for far too long. No child deserves to be born into a world where their basic necessities are not met, especially in a country as wealthy as the U.S. Expanding the EITC and other anti-poverty measures is our first step to ensuring that doesn’t happen. Regardless of your political beliefs, we can all agree that children should not be punished for being born poor. What their parents did or did not do is irrelevant. They are children. We have a responsibility to ensure that they are welcome to the American Dream just as much as the rest of us are.
State Rep. Rachel Hood represents Michigan’s 76th District, which covers parts of Grand Rapids.