Montgomery panel endorses tax credit for working poor, this time without ‘smackdown’

October 21, 2013

Legislation to modestly bump up support for Montgomery’s working poor cleared a County Council committee Monday, three months after it touched off a round of sniping and backbiting.

The bill, sponsored by council member Hans Riemer (D-At Large) raises the Working Families Income Supplement, a county payment that bolsters the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for low-income working people. Eligible households can receive credits of up to $6,000 a year from the EITC. Maryland allows those households to claim half of their federal credit on state income taxes.

Montgomery once matched 100 percent of the state credit, but rolled back support during the recession. The current match, which is 85 percent, will cost the county $17.6 million in the current fiscal year. Riemer would restore it to 100 percent by 2017, raising the average credit to about $600 a year. It would push the total cost of the program to over $20 million annually. About 40,000 people would receive some level of payment.

Riemer said that in a county where one recent study showed that it costs a single adult with a pre-schooler $64,000 a year to be economically self-sufficient, every bit of support is critical.

“Of course it is an expensive item,” said Riemer. But the $600 could also mean the difference between missing or making a car payment that allows someone the means to get to a job every day. Without it, “that family could face a tailspin,” he said.

Riemer’s proposal touched off a nasty dispute with Council President Nancy Navarro D-Midcounty) and Council member Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring) this summer. Navarro and Ervin said the bill was bad policy because it locked the council into a financial commitment it might not be able to keep.

But underlying the debate seemed to be resentment of Riemer’s advocacy and jostling for position as the council’s prime champion of the poor. Ervin said she’d “like to smack Hans Riemer. All of a sudden he cares about poor people?” Ervin said the use of “smack” was only figurative.

Criticism of the bill continued on Monday. Navarro and Ervin said increasing the tax credit could make it difficult for the council to maintain its support for numerous community groups that serve the poor directly. They also said that the best way to help the working poor was to raise the minimum wage, a measure also pending before the council.

The bill was passed out of committee with some tweaks that make fit easier for the council to opt out of the increases in the tax credits. The number of council votes necessary to waive the increase was dropped from six to five.

The measure now goes to the full council for final action.

Bill Turque, who covers Montgomery County government and politics, has spent more than thirty years as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Dallas Times Herald and The Kansas City Star.
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