There is a good chance you know someone struggling to make ends meet. Oklahoma’s poverty rate is higher than the national average. In 2017, almost one in six Oklahomans and one in five children experienced poverty. Although Oklahoma’s unemployment rate is low, we also have a higher proportion of people working low-wage jobs compared to the national average. As a result, too many Oklahomans struggle to pay for basic needs like food and going to the doctor.
People who struggle to pay for health care have higher risks of heart attacks, obesity, and depression. One way to help Oklahomans meet their basic needs and stay healthy is by restoring an effective and bipartisan anti-poverty measure –the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).
The earned income tax credit is good for families and the economy
The EITC is a tax credit designed to encourage work. The credit grows alongside one’s income until reaching a maximum value. For instance, a working mother with two children would be eligible for up $286 a year from Oklahoma’s EITC. The more she works, the more she can earn: the credit increases up to a point, and then gently phases out as income increases. Unfortunately, Oklahoma lawmakers cut the state EITC during the budget shortfall of 2016 by making it non-refundable. This means that if the credit is more than what a family owes in income taxes, the balance isn’t refunded to them. Cutting the EITC resulted in an average loss of $121 per household, which is money that families could have spent on basic needs like gas, clothing, or home repairs.
A refundable EITC isn’t just good for families: it’s also a good investment in our communities. By one estimate, every dollar spent through EITC generates $1.58 in economic activity. However, restoring the EITC will not only strengthen a family’s economic security but make them healthier
The EITC makes moms healthier
One of the biggest ways the EITC improves health is by increasing access to prenatal care. This helps both women and their children. For instance, moms who claim the EITC are more likely to receive prenatal care and the care they get is higher quality. Quality prenatal care decreases the risk of infant death and leads to better pregnancy outcomes, including a lower risk of premature delivery and fewer low-birthweight babies. Babies born to mothers who received good prenatal care are also less likely to need lengthy and costly hospital stays. Pregnant women who receive the EITC are also less likely to smoke, which has been linked to a lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome, asthma, and behavioral problems.
Likely as a result of lowering stress levels, the EITC is linked to other benefits for moms as well. Moms who receive the EITC tend to have lower blood pressures, cholesterol, and inflammatory markers, which means their risk of developing heart disease is strongly reduced. Additionally, married mothers who receive the EITC appear to have fewer poor mental health days and symptoms of depression, which makes it easier for them to work and parent.
The EITC leads to healthier kids
Beyond the benefits of a better pregnancy, the EITC has been linked to improvements in children’s health as well. Growing up in a home without enough resources is an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE). ACEs, by way of toxic stress, lead to a constant fight or flight response. Over time, this response leads to poor health that can carry over into adulthood. Children with multiple ACEs are at a higher risk of chronic health problems like diabetes, heart disease, and depression. Thankfully, many of these changes can be reversed by reducing stress. The credit seems to do this: the larger the EITC a family receives the better a child scores on behavioral tests examining things like depression, hyperactivity, and anxiety. Moms in EITC families are also more likely to report their children’s health as excellent instead of fair or poor.
The status of the EITC this session
Restoring the EITC could be a boon to both our state’s health and economy. It has bipartisan support, and was nearly restored during the past two legislative sessions. This year, nine bills aimed to restore the EITC but none were taken up by committee and they died early in the legislative process. However, there is still time for this proposal to be taken up in budget negotiations in May. It is crucial to keep pressure on lawmakers and remind them that the EITC rewards work, helps grow the economy and can improve the health of Oklahomans.