OPINION: I Grew Up Witnessing How Washington’s Tax Code Hurts Families — Let’s Fix It

by Rep. Debra Entenman

I remember growing up in a housing project in Seattle and my mother having to make choices. Choices like which of my siblings got to go on the field trip or which store to shop at to get the cheapest groceries to stretch her teacher’s paycheck just a little bit further.

Too many working Washingtonians face those choices still today as they struggle to keep up with the skyrocketing cost of living.

While it’s great news that our state has enacted policies in recent years to better support families who work hard for low wages — like a boosted minimum wage and Paid Family and Medical Leave — there’s another important pro-worker policy needed in our state: the Working Families Tax Credit.

The Working Families Tax Credit is a simple, proven policy that puts money back into the pockets of working people. The credit boosts income by returning a portion of sales taxes paid by lower-income workers. That money could help one million people buy groceries or a bus pass or help them put more into savings. I know it would have made a difference for my mother’s monthly budget.

This credit will help offset a state tax code that harms the economic security of people with low and middle incomes. Washington has the most inequitable tax code in the country. The lowest-paid employees are paying a considerably bigger share of state and local taxes (about 18 percent) than the wealthiest 1 percent (3 percent).

As income inequality grows, now is the time to give workers a lift. This modern Working Families Tax Credit that I am proposing this legislative session also better reflects our current workforce and economy. So even more people, like workers without children, low-income college students, immigrant workers, and full- time family caregivers, qualify.

The Working Families Tax Credit is based on a successful federal program, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and Washington technically already has this state version of the program on the books. But because of the recession, the credit was never funded.

In King County, more than 96,000 people currently receive the EITC. Many more than that would benefit from this expanded state tax credit. The average credit for workers will be $350 and the maximum is $970. For many families, that kind of money can mean not having to make the hard choices my mom had to make. It can also help some families build savings and avoid risky, short-term loans to get by.

The credit drives local economic growth as workers tend to spend that money in their community. It has an outsized positive impact on many people of color who, because of biased financial institutional policies, are more likely to be paid less.

Families are struggling because the state’s tax code is holding back low-paid Washingtonians. Passing the Working Families Tax Credit means families do not have to make the same hard choices as my mother.

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Featured Image: Rep. Debra Entenman files the Working Families Tax Credit bill in Olympia. (Photo courtesy Washington State Budget & Policy Center)

State Rep. Debra Entenman represents the 47th Legislative District, which encompasses part of southeast King County including part of Kent, Covington and Auburn. Reach her at 360-786-7918 or Debra.Entenman@leg.wa.gov.