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In our first post in this series, we argued that if the Pennsylvania General Assembly chooses to cut taxes in the budget that begins on July 1st, it should limit the cut to less than $1 billion per year and focus the benefits of the cut on low- and moderate-income Pennsylvanians.

There is one plan that meets both of these criteria perfectly: a state earned income tax credit.

The federal earned income tax credit (EITC) is a program that puts more money into the pockets of low- and middle-income families by giving them a credit against the taxes they pay. It was a program created by the Nixon administration and expanded under subsequent Republican presidents. It has traditionally been supported by Republicans who believe, correctly, that it encourages and makes it possible for people with low incomes to enter and stay in the job market.

No federal program, other than Social Security, reduces poverty as much. Twenty-nine other states have expanded the benefits of a federal EITC by enacting a state EITC. Pennsylvania should follow their lead. A state EITC is a relatively inexpensive program. And it is a program that would be easy to implement.

The federal earned income tax credit gives workers a credit against their taxes. And the credit is refundable, which means that even if they pay no taxes they can still receive the benefit. The tax credit begins when workers earn their first dollar and increases to a maximum income of about $12,000 for a one-worker family with one child and about $17,000 for a married couple with three children. Then it gradually declines when families hit a higher threshold, so there is no benefit cliff.

The state tax credit is simple to claim and administer. We propose that Pennsylvania’s earned income tax credit be set at 30% of the federal credit. Claiming it would require taxpayers to simply enter their federal tax credit on one line on the PA-40 tax form, which would be done automatically by tax software.

The program would benefit 1.45 million families in the state. The average tax cut for those who receive it would be $773. Almost all of EITC benefits—88.5%—would go to Pennsylvania families earning less than $52,100 (and those above that level who received any benefit typically have three or more children). The average income of those who receive EITC benefits is $27,500.  Roughly 40% of the families who would benefit from a state EITC do not currently benefit from the state’s tax forgiveness program.

While it would be a good idea to increase the benefits and lift the income limits on the state’s Tax Forgiveness program, the state EITC would provide greater benefits to families with lower incomes because it is refundable.

We estimate that a Pennsylvania earned income tax credit would cost the state $775 million.

An additional benefit of the state earned income tax credit is that it would encourage more families who are eligible for the federal EITC to claim it—right now, about 15% of those who are eligible fail to do so. An added incentive to claim the federal credit could bring about $43 million federal dollars into the state that are now left on the table.