Since joining RESULTS earlier this year, I’ve learned to understand the power of my own voice. If I speak up and demand change — and if other ordinary people do the same — our elected representatives will listen. That’s why advocacy is such an incredible force. It has the capacity to transform policy and impact the lives of millions of people. I wrote the op-ed below for the News and Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina, where I now live, and it was published this month. I want to see the end of poverty in my state and all over the country. I’m raising my voice for change, and I won’t give up until we get it.
It’s a cold December day in 2007, and downtown Jamaica Queens, N.Y., is decorated for the season. Big and beautiful wreaths hang from post to post. I stand in line hoping to be the first of the few inside before the building becomes unbelievably packed.
I’m standing in line to renew my SNAP benefits (formerly known as food stamps). I have three young boys to care for, and I’m doing the best I can. Earlier that year I had been living on base, married to a military member and trying to figure out a way to escape an unhealthy marriage. Those were days of extreme struggle.
Today, I am an accountant working in a field I enjoy, and I often think on those days – in a way I’m still living those days, just not as desperately as I once was. There is still the struggle to save for a better future and not just survive. In this, I know I’m not alone.
The subject of wealth inequality dominates our national conversation. We’re already talking about the problem, and it is a problem that can be solved. Let’s not get discouraged; we can tackle this. A great start would be to preserve the programs already in place that help keep millions of Americans like me afloat.
Two of the most effective programs at keeping Americans out of poverty are the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. These are refundable, pro-work tax credits that lifted nearly 10 million people out of poverty – half of them children – in 2014. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, an estimated 931,000 working families in North Carolina took advantage of these federal refundable tax credits in 2013.
Christmas in March
Most working families don’t even realize that many times the little refund they receive at tax season is due to these tax breaks. Christmas is my favorite holiday, and getting a tax refund is usually the best Christmas present I get – in March. A tax refund means we get caught up on past-due bills, and I have a glimmer of hope of a savings account.
According to recently released U.S. census data, North Carolina suffers from a 17.2 percent poverty rate. Wow, that’s a cringe-worthy number. But we don’t have to simply accept it and throw up our hands. We can do better. We can continue the good fight and keep the aforementioned programs in play.
Certain key provisions of the EITC and the CTC are due to expire soon, sending 16 million people into deeper poverty. With a presidential election coming up, Congress may not be paying enough attention to these tax provisions. We cannot let these provisions expire. If we do, North Carolina’s poverty rate may dramatically increase.
I made North Carolina my adopted home. I was attracted to its beauty and its people. As a North Carolinian, I don’t want anyone in this great state to go hungry or to watch his or her children suffer. Though I’ve left the hardships of food insecurity behind, I’m still in the fight to excel. Knowing that a job loss can send me back to my days of extreme struggle makes me very sad. But even sadder is the fact that I’m not alone.
Let’s keep Congress accountable. Let’s make sure that while tax breaks for businesses are consistent priorities, working families get the same attention. Working families of this country deserve dignity and respect from their elected officials. The EITC and CTC provisions cannot be allowed to expire – these proven programs must survive to ensure a better future for families just like mine.
Ruth Innocent recently started her own RESULTS chapter in the Raleigh area. For more information on how you can get involved in citizen advocacy, please visit www.results.org.