Faith leaders, nonprofit groups lobby to protect tax credits for low-income families, seniors (Tulsa World)

By Barbara Hoberock

OKLAHOMA CITY — Ministers and nonprofit groups urged state lawmakers Wednesday not to reduce or eliminate tax credits that benefit low-income Oklahomans.

David Blatt, executive director of the Tulsa-based Oklahoma Policy Institute, said at a Capitol news conference that a legislative plan under consideration would reduce the Oklahoma Earned Income Tax Credit, Sales Tax Relief Credit and Child Care Tax Credit.

The credits support more than 400,000 low- to moderate-income families and seniors.

Lawmakers have until 5 p.m. May 27 to pass a fiscal year 2017 budget. They expect to have $1.3 billion less to spend next fiscal year due to a drop in energy prices, tax cuts and an inability to rein in tax credits and incentives that were designed to generate economic activity.

“If you are a low-income family with children, you can claim all three of these credits, and together it could be anywhere from $150 to $300 a year,” Blatt said. “Under a plan that has been proposed, families could lose all or most of those credits.”

The proposed changes would be a $76 million savings to the state, Blatt said.

The Rev. Chris Moore, pastor of Fellowship Congregational Church (United Church of Christ) in Tulsa, said at the news conference that “a central part of our faith is caring for the poor.”

William Tabbernee, executive director of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches, said taking away tax credits from some of the most vulnerable people in society “is immoral.”

He said religious leaders are calling on lawmakers to do the right thing and be responsible.

“I have heard it said that in a crisis like this everybody should do their fair share — they should pay their fair share,” he said. “But people who do not have a fair share in the first place cannot pay their fair share.”

Mitch Randall, senior pastor of North Haven Church in Norman, said the failure of the state to maintain sufficient funding places an unbalanced burden on the state’s places of worship.

“An example of this unbalanced burden is asking churches and other places of worship to offer more funding for social services,” he said.

He said some school districts are considering going to a four-day week to cut costs, which means food banks will have to provide meals for poor children over a three-day weekend instead of a traditional two-day weekend.

“With one in six Oklahomans facing hunger, one in four Oklahoma children without adequate, nutritious food, and 16 percent of our population living at or below the federal poverty line, now is not the time to cut back on tax credits that help low-income working families,” said Effie Craven, state advocacy and policy director for the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma.

Taking from those who can least afford it is not the answer to the budget problem, Craven said.

Danielle Ezell, executive director of the Oklahoma Women’s Coalition, echoed those sentiments.

“We believe these credits are crucial to helping women in Oklahoma make ends meet,” she said. “In a state that already ranks 48th overall for the status of women, we can’t afford to put yet another hurdle in place for women to achieve economic security and to take care of their families.”

Gov. Mary Fallin released a statement Wednesday evening saying:

“It is my desire to protect core services as much as possible for our most vulnerable citizens. My proposed budgets reflect that along with the past tax cuts, which let families keep more of their hard-earned money.

“I also am working hard to hold cuts to a minimum to core services such as health care, specifically rural hospitals and nursing homes that provide services to our most vulnerable citizens who depend on them to stay healthy.

“Budget talks continue, and I am hopeful a resolution on a budget can be reached soon to give our agencies and our citizens certainty that dire scenarios they are all worrying about are not going to happen.”

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