Elijah Cummings

Each year, during the holiday season, we should commend the families, faith institutions and other organizations who, year round, give generously of their time, talents and finances to help the “least of these” in our community.

This also is the time when our shared humanity should encourage all of us to do whatever is within our power to lift up our neighbors — and, especially, their children.

Our faith’s traditions imbue us with an empowering equitable principle:  To those to whom much is given, much is expected in return.

This is why we rightly honor those of our neighbors who respond to our shared calling to help others.  It also is why the governments of humane societies like our own enact social “safety nets” to assist those whose needs are beyond the capabilities of private generosity to mitigate.

These thoughts were in my heart on December 3, when Senator Elizabeth Warren joined me for a forum on the harsh effects of poverty upon America’s children – the seventh forum that we have convened as part of our Middle Class Prosperity Project.

You can watch our hearing in its entirety on the Internet at democrats.oversight.house.gov

The factual evidence that we documented is both sobering and encouraging.

For example, in 2014, nearly 47 million Americans lived in poverty, including more than 21 percent of American children under the age of 18.

More than 4 out of every ten of these poor children (nearly 7 million of them) were attempting to survive in the extreme poverty of less than one-half of the federal poverty threshold.

That number of those American children — those 7 million children who are living in extreme poverty — exceeds the combined populations of both Texas and Florida.

On the more encouraging side, however, our experts confirmed that publicly supported economic  policies are making a difference.  The Earned Income Tax Credit raised more than 6 million Americans — including more than 3 million children — out of poverty in 2013.

When nearly half of those living in poverty in the United States are living in what can only be described as deprivation, there should be no opposition to making the expanded Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit permanent.

President Obama agrees — and, together, we are working to convince our Republican colleagues that permanent, expanded assistance to America’s working families of modest means deserves our continued support.

Here is our challenge.  In 2017, three key tax provisions for working families will expire.

–       Married low-income workers will be subject to a larger marriage penalty.

–       Families with three or more children will see their tax credits cut.

–       Families that earn between $3,000 and $14,600 – including full-time minimum wage workers – will lose access to key tax credits that help with the costs of raising children.

If these provisions expire, sixteen million people will be pushed into (or deeper into) poverty — including 114,000 children in Maryland alone.

Currently, Republicans in Congress are considering spending $95 billion on approximately 50 tax breaks for businesses, including one give-away to Wall Street that costs $13.4 billion.  If big business is to continue to receive tax breaks, low-income Americans who are working hard just to survive deserve some support as well – especially when we can provide that help for a fraction of the cost of the tax breaks for business.

The Earned Income Tax Credit is not the entire answer to our challenge, but it is a critical part of that answer.

When I walk the streets of Baltimore, I see a city largely bereft of the kinds of well-paying jobs that enabled men and women like my parents to move ahead and provide for their families.  The loss of these jobs has left a community in which one out of every three children live in poverty.

As a nation that aspires to be humane, we must not turn away from these children or from their families.

Even during these times of economic trial for so many of our countrymen and women, I remain convinced that a combination of social policy that rewards work (like the Earned Income Tax Credit), private generosity and the determination of our people to succeed can lift up even our poorest communities.

My neighbors want to work, and they are willing to work their way up into better paying jobs. Yet, their children need some help to survive and thrive during the years required by their families to complete that journey.

Across the United States, tens of millions of Americans who are living — and working — in poverty dream of a time when opportunity for all will include them as well.

The Earned Income Tax Credit for working families who are struggling economically is not a gift to them.  It is a thoughtful and effective investment in a better future for us all.

Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.