by Judy Chen and Roxana Norouzi
When I sat down with Jane early last year, she had an air of nervous optimism. She was a mother of three, fresh out of a bad living situation, and badly needed a little cash to help pay for school supplies and formula. Leaning on friends and family had been hard, and I knew it was a big step to ask for help. Like every immigrant parent who comes to ask for support, I wanted nothing more than to tell her that getting help would be easy.
Helping Jane’s family and others like her should be easy, but as members of the Working Families Tax Credit Coalition, a statewide coalition who fought for and won an annual tax credit of $300–$1,200 for people with low to moderate incomes, we’re concerned that it won’t be. The Department of Revenue (DOR), the state agency implementing the Working Families Tax Credit, is recommending unnecessary barriers in the application process that could make accessing this help difficult or impossible for low-income Washingtonians like Jane that need it most.
This statewide tax credit, which goes into effect in 2023, was funded overwhelmingly by a bipartisan group of lawmakers after over 10 years of advocacy and testimony from hundreds of community members. Unfortunately, the current application puts in place extra barriers for people who file their taxes with an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN), which includes many undocumented workers and survivors of domestic violence. It also puts in place punitive repayment requirements for any overpayments made in error.
At OneAmerica, we’ve seen the resiliency and power of our immigrant community to come together to support each other in the wake of the pandemic. The cash boost from the Working Families Tax Credit will give low-income immigrant workers and families the space to take a breath. Many undocumented community members file their taxes using an ITIN, an alternative to a Social Security Number which is applied for through the IRS, and is only used for filing taxes.
At the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, we work to support and advocate for domestic violence survivors, some of whom also use an ITIN to file their taxes. The IRS has a backlog of up to three years in processing applications, so requiring ITIN filers to provide extra proof their application has been processed will be a huge barrier when they apply for the Working Families Tax Credit. Cash resources like the Working Families Tax Credit can be vital to survivors’ stability, giving them access to safer options they may not otherwise have. For the people we both work with, it’s essential DOR gets cash into people’s pockets now, not three years down the road.
We are also concerned about the punitive repayment requirement for those who make errors in their application. As it stands, the Department of Revenue will require people to repay any overpayment with interest, even if they were overpaid by mistake. This is counter to the promise of the Working Families Tax Credit, which is designed to be a tool to uplift Washingtonians who are struggling the most. DOR must waive the repayment requirement so that people with low incomes aren’t further pushed into poverty.
For immigrants and domestic violence survivors, building trust in the systems that are supposed to support them is hard because too often those systems meet them with suspicion and fail to treat them with dignity and respect. The Working Families Tax Credit is a brand-new program, and it’s going to be a heavy lift to build the trust necessary for people to apply. Removing unnecessary barriers in the application process will get cash into people’s pockets faster, allowing all of us to breathe a sigh of relief and focus on what really matters: rebuilding our communities, helping our kids to thrive, and caring for each other.
The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.
The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.
Judy Chen is executive director of the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a statewide network of domestic violence programs, which work tirelessly to help survivors towards safety and freedom.
Roxana Norouzi is executive director of OneAmerica, the largest immigrant and refugee advocacy organization in Washington State.
📸 Featured Image: Photo by SewCream/Shutterstock.com
Before you move on to the next story … The South Seattle Emerald is brought to you by Rainmakers. Rainmakers give recurring gifts at any amount. With over 1,000 Rainmakers, the Emerald is truly community-driven local media. Help us keep BIPOC-led media free and accessible. If just half of our readers signed up to give $6 a month, we wouldn't have to fundraise for the rest of the year. Small amounts make a difference. We cannot do this work without you. Become a Rainmaker today!