We all feel it. Things are unbelievably expensive around here. It’s hard to afford rents and the high cost of food and transportation. And if you are a minimum wage worker, or even if you’ve managed to get to a moderate income, you’re not just grappling with the ridiculous cost of living in Seattle—you’re also shouldering more than your share of the taxes that are paying for our schools, parks, and other government services. People with low and moderate incomes pay up to six times more in state and local taxes as a share of income than the ultra-wealthy (like, you know, Jeff Bezos).
And given that people of color, particularly Black, Native American, Latinx, and Pacific Islander communities, continue to face the highest barriers to family-wage jobs and opportunities for economic progress—thanks to a legacy of racist policies like redlining, segregation, and discrimination in employment and education—it means they are more likely to be among the people most hurt by this inequitable tax code.
Closing the tax break on capital gains would, of course, fix one part of the problem—namely, the part of our tax code that continues to give white households the best deal when it comes to accumulating wealth (not to mention the fact that it deprives our communities of revenue that would serve us all).
But the state legislature has another important chance this session to respond to another part of the problem—the fact that our tax code gives people with low and moderate incomes, especially people of color, a raw deal. Legislators need to enact a pro-worker, anti-poverty policy that would help advance racial equity: the Working Families Tax Credit.
The Working Families Tax Credit is Washington state’s version of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), one of the most successful federal anti-poverty programs on the books. It would put cash back into the pockets of workers who most need it most, boosting the incomes of about 1 million households in Washington state. It’s simple: if you work and earn low wages, you’d receive an average credit of $350 per year.
If you have kids, you get more, up to $970 per year. That money can make a real difference, and it’s flexible so families can spend it on what makes the most sense for their needs.
And the policy proposal being considered in Olympia right now importantly expands on the federal version to include single workers without children, low-income students, caregivers, and immigrant workers.
These expansions are critical for many families of color in our region, in particular immigrant families. For both of us, it’s taboo in our communities to put older relatives in care facilities. And it’s common for multiple generations to live together under one roof. One of us, Louie Tan Vital, has testified in Olympia twice in support of the Working Families Tax Credit, noting that there was a time when her family was caring for her grandmother, a stepbrother with disabilities, and her 6-year-old brother. The Working Families Tax Credit would have been a huge help to her family, who would have qualified for the credit during that time.
The credit would help redress some of the inequities in our tax code and make a difference for so many families of color and immigrant families in our region and throughout the state—in many rural communities in eastern and western Washington, in particular.
In Seattle, almost 30,000 people currently receive the federal EITC. Even more people in this city would qualify for the expanded state-level version.
In short, the Working Families Tax Credit is a simple, proven policy that would help many Washingtonians put food on the table and pay for a roof over their heads—and maybe even save for the future. In combination with other pro-worker policies like a higher minimum wage and Paid Family and Medical Leave, it is a critical tool to advance racial equity and to further lift up people who are struggling to keep up with our region’s skyrocketing cost of living. That’s why a wide range of statewide organizations, including All In For Washington and the Washington State Budget & Policy Center, and so many community leaders and activists are coming together to call for the legislature to enact this credit.
Call on your elected officials to pass the Working Families Tax Credit bills sponsored by Rep. Debra Entenman and Sen. Joe Nguyen. Lawmakers need to take this step to clean up our tax code and support their hardworking constituents who run the risk of falling behind.
Louie Tan Vital is a poet, activist, and graduate student at the University of Washington Evans School of Public Policy and Governance. Sumayyah Waheed is the director of All In For Washington.