NC Budget and Tax Center

This is the third post of a Budget and Tax Center blog series on public services and programs that face cuts in the budget process or have been underfunded in past years. See the other posts here and here.

The Senate Budget proposal makes significant changes to North Carolina’s child care subsidy program, and not in a good way. In fact it kicks some families off the program. Essentially the Senate eliminates many of the best practices in child care subsidy policy, which results in making it more difficult for working families to access child care. The Child Care Subsidy program provides an opportunity for low-income working parents to access affordable and safe child care while they are supporting their family. As many parents know, child care is often the highest monthly expense for a family, with an average annual cost of full-time center care for one child at about $8,500 a year. The high cost of child care prices many low and middle income families out of the market, which could make it difficult for a parent to get and keep a job, or be forced to choose an unsafe care setting.

Enter the child care subsidy program, which currently provides families who earn less than 75% of the state median income (SMI; about 50,000 a year for a family of four) the opportunity to ensure a safe, quality child care setting for their children while they work. For some parents, the current system also provides a sliding scale for co-payments that decreases as the family size increases. While the program is extremely beneficial both in ensuring healthy early childhood development and allowing parents to work and sustain their family, the funding has been inadequate over the years, leaving over 15,000 eligible North Carolina families on a waiting list as of May, 2014, for months and even years. Read about Lex’s story from Western North Carolina whose children languished on the waiting list for over three years.

A magnifying glass is indeed needed to understand how the Senate budget changes the program because it claims to be revenue neutral and to reduce the number of children on the waiting list. So let’s take a look. The Senate changes eligibility for the program from 75% of the SMI to 200% of the Federal Poverty Level ($47,700 for a family of four) for children ages 0-5 years. This means that to qualify to receive subsidies you have to earn less, even though families who earn up to 75% of the SMI still often can’t afford child care. The Senate further reduces eligibility for families with children ages 6-13 years to 133% of the Federal Poverty Level (about $32,000 for a family of four). The sliding scale is also eliminated, meaning that families with larger family sizes, and thus expenses, have to pay the same copay as families with smaller family sizes. Co-payments are also no longer reduced for partial day care. For some families, the changes in co-payment will price them out of the market, meaning parents could lose jobs or kids could go to unsafe care settings.

The Senate’s proposed changes to the child care subsidy program are just another example of robbing Peter to pay Paul. While they may keep the program revenue neutral, they’re kicking families out by changing eligibility and co-pay levels to do it. And the only way they’re reducing the waiting list is by eliminating those families on the waiting list who are eligible at the current levels that will no longer be eligible with a lower income eligibility threshold. They’re also decreasing state dollars by relying on more federal dollars available through block grants. It’s unclear what the associated impact will be to other block grant-funded programs. A better way forward would be to ensure that all North Carolina’s families who can’t afford care (which according to federal standards could be families earning up to 85% SMI) receive help to support their ability to work and their children’s ability to learn in the critical early years.


NC Budget and Tax Center

It comes as no surprise to working families that North Carolina’s tax system is fundamentally unfair. Families who make less than $47,000 a year pay, on average, nearly 2 times more of their income in state and local taxes than those making more than $345,000. But taxpayers don’t have to accept this fundamental unfairness. One of the best ways for our state to improve the fairness of its tax structure is through reinstating a refundable Earned Income Tax Credit.

A new report, Improving Tax Fairness with a State Earned Income Tax Credit, by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy shows just how effective a refundable Earned Income Tax credit (EITC) can be in counteracting North Carolina’s upside-down tax code.

Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia already have some version of a state EITC. Most state EITCs are based on some percentage of the federal EITC. The federal EITC was introduced in 1975 and provides targeted tax reductions to low-income workers to reward work and boost income. The federal EITC has targeted income limits to restrict eligibility and better support beneficiaries. By all accounts, the federal EITC has been wildly successful, increasing workforce participation and helping 6.5 million Americans escape poverty in 2012, including 3.3 million children.

In the same vein, states should look to the EITC to improve tax fairness.

North Carolina took that important step in 2007 by establishing an EITC at 3 percent of the federal credit which then subsequently increased to 5 percent. The average refundable state EITC is equal to 16 percent of the federal credit. When state lawmakers allowed our state EITC to expire after 2013, North Carolina had a refundable EITC at 4.5% of the federal credit, well below the average. In North Carolina, as in most states, it would take a fairly significant EITC to begin to offset the upside down nature of state tax codes.

As discussed in this report, lawmakers in Raleigh can take immediate steps to address the inherent unfairness in the tax code by reinstating a refundable state EITC. Ultimately, lawmakers should not only reinstate NC’s EITC but work to make it a higher percent of the federal credit. While it would cost revenue to reinstate North Carolina’s EITC, such revenue could be raised by repealing tax breaks that benefit wealthy taxpayers and corporations, which in turn would also improve the fairness of our state’s tax system.


NC Budget and Tax Center

The Governor’s budget irresponsibly jeopardizes North Carolina’s future economic prospects.

There are two main reasons: it uses one-time money that won’t be there in years to come, and it makes cuts in key areas that are the building blocks of a strong economy.

Self-inflicted revenue shortfalls resulting from the tax plan enacted last year mean fewer dollars to build a strong foundation for the state’s economy and improve the lives of all North Carolinians. The Governor’s use of one-time money and cuts to key areas, like higher education and health, are shortsighted and harmful to the state’s long-term stability and growth.

The Governor should put forward a responsible plan to pay for his priorities by stopping any further tax cuts from going into effect and urging legislators to re-examine the tax decisions made last year.  Next year’s financial gap has the potential to grow even larger as the costs of personal income tax changes are felt. State policymakers would do well to plan for that impact and its potential devastating effect on families and the state’s economy.

NC Budget and Tax Center

In the past week lawmakers in Connecticut and Maryland have taken steps to strengthen their state Earned Income Tax Credit. And by strengthened, we’re talking increasing the state’s EITC from 25% to 28% of the federal EITC. Meanwhile, North Carolina prepares to enter a legislative short session next week where lawmakers can boast to the claim of being the only state in the nation to eliminate the EITC in nearly 30 years.

North Carolina’s state EITC was a modest boost (starting at only 3.5% of the federal EITC in its inaugural year in 2007 and topping out at 5%) , but no doubt provided an extra couple hundred dollars in the pockets of working poor families to help pay the bills and put food on the table. On the whole, working families in all 100 counties of North Carolina infused over $100 million into the state’s economy in 2012 by spending their EITC to meet immediate needs.

Further, the EITC is one of the most effective child anti-poverty tools in the nation, with the federal EITC alone lifting almost 300,000 North Carolinians out of poverty, half of them children. Paired with a strong state EITC, families who work hard and yet still struggle to get by in difficult times can have the extra boost they need at tax time to make a needed car repair so they can get to work reliably, or pay a utility bill to keep the power on.

I have children Read More


Some of the most damning facts about the state of North Carolina’s tax system and what the most recent changes enacted by state leaders really portend for average families — especially the state’s one-of-a-kind repeal of the Earned Income Tax Credit — were explained at a Budget and Tax Center press briefing this morning. This is from a statement the group released after the event:

“The tax plan passed by the General Assembly during the 2013 legislative session resulted in a tax shift onto working families. Advocates from around the state joined together on Tax Day to bring awareness to the plan, which is bad for working families, children, business, and the economy. Under the new plan, which will took effect in January 2014 and will impact income tax filing in 2015, low- and middle-income families will see their taxes go up on average, while wealthy taxpayers and corporations saw large tax cuts.   Read More