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At United Way of the Wine Country, we fight for the many women and men who work hard at low-wage jobs yet can barely make ends meet. They find it nearly impossible to cover essentials such as food, transportation to and from work, and electric bills.

One way we help struggling workers in our community is by connecting them with the federal and now state earned income tax credit. It’s one of our most effective tools to keep people working and help them get a fair shot at a decent life. Just last year, we helped connect 5,200 individuals and families to the earned income tax credit and other available credits through the Earn It! Keep It! $ave It! coalition resulting in $6.8 million coming back to our five-county region.

The more important — and more concerning — statistic is the number of struggling workers we can’t help because the federal tax credit is largely unavailable to them. Right now, the federal tax credit largely or entirely shuts out millions of working Americans who are not raising children. For example, noncustodial parents who want to provide more support to their children receive very little from the credit, and young childless workers aged 21 to 24 — many of whom are struggling to get a foothold in the work force — are completely ineligible for the federal earned income tax credit. Because these workers are largely excluded from the federal EITC, they are the only group in our country that is taxed into or deeper into poverty. This situation makes it even harder for workers to pay their bills today and build the financial stability they need to succeed in the future.

Our nation’s leaders can solve this problem. Bipartisan proposals are pending in Congress to improve the federal EITC for workers not raising children by lowering the eligibility age to 21 and increasing the maximum credit amount.

Expanding the federal EITC to include workers not raising children would give nearly 1.5 million working people in California the financial stability to cover the basics, build a better future for themselves and their loved ones and contribute more to our local economy. Studies show that the federal earned income tax credit helps working people buy necessities like food and gas from local businesses, which in turn helps our local economy grow.

At United Way of the Wine Country, we know these aren’t just numbers. They are real people with real stories. Last year, we helped 23-year-old Yesenia, a public school classroom aide, who was earning just $12,000. If she had qualified for the federal EITC, Yesenia could have received up to a $3,359 tax credit. This extra money could have helped pay for a car, enabling her to take education classes at night.

A stronger tax credit would reward hard-working people like Yesenia and others — young and old, male and female, from every background — who do essential, low-wage jobs to keep California running in schools and office buildings and on construction sites.

As senators and Congressmen look for ways to help hard-working Americans in the next year, we hope they will show strong support for expanding the federal earned income tax credit for workers not raising children. Workers in California like Yesenia and working people across the country are counting on them.

Mike Kallhoff is president and chief executive officer of United Way of the Wine Country.

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