April 15 may be a dreaded date for millions of Americans. But there's some good tax news for many working families -- if only they get the word. Both federal and state governments offer an earned income credit (EIC), designed to help alleviate financial pressures on parents who are struggling to raise children on relatively little income.
For families with earnings of less than $23,050 last year and a child living in the household at least six months of the year, Maryland offers a tax credit that can be worth up to $1,182. The federal government has an even better deal: credits of up to $2,364 on federal returns, and if a family does not owe that much in taxes, the government will send a check in the amount for which they qualify.
An increase in the EIC is one of the Clinton administration's most effective ways of helping the working poor. The only hitch is that families have to take the initiative to claim the benefit. Last week, state and federal officials called attention to the fact that although an estimated 300,000 families in Maryland are eligible for the credit, as many as 40,000 families may not know about the program or how to participate.
It's not too late. Families who may have already filed their returns, and who failed to apply for the EIC, can simply submit an amended return.
As good as the program sounds, many taxpayers can be forgiven if they feel somewhat intimidated by the prospect of filling out yet another IRS form. Never fear; help is available. One good source of information about the tax credit and help in claiming it is a hotline operated jointly by the Maryland Committee for Children and the United Way of Central Maryland that answers questions and refers callers who might qualify to locations where free tax assistance is available. First Call for Help, as it is called, operates around the clock and can be reached at 410-685-0525 or 1-800-492-0618.
It takes a lot to rear a child, and money is an important part of that equation. As one wag noted, if everyone looked at childbearing purely as a financial investment, there would be no children. The EIC is a practical way of helping working families and their children at the time when the help can make a vast difference.
One single mother described her EIC benefit as her all-important "rug money," the money she hides under the rug for those emergencies when her paycheck doesn't cover groceries at the end of the month, or when her son hits a growing spurt and can't fit into his shoes any more. By whatever name, the EIC is a benefit every family who qualifies should claim.