Attacking fraud by assaulting children is senseless

There is a callous and senseless tax debate going on inside the Capitol over an amendment that would deny children of immigrants access to the refundable Child Tax Credit (CTC), an effective antipoverty program.

Under a proposal by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), workers will no longer be able to claim the refundable CTC for their children who do not have Social Security numbers.  Immigrants, regardless of status, are required to pay taxes and are eligible to claim the CTC.  Ayotte says there is fraud in the program.

Assaulting kids in the name of attacking fraud is not a solution.

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Instead of casting children of the lowest-wage workers as beneficiaries of a “pot of money,” the senators seeking to cut waste and fraud should spend their moral outrage on the tens of billions of dollars to be found in the sea of corporate tax loopholes. American corporations and individuals illegally evade up to $100 billion dollars in U.S. taxes each year through offshore tax schemes, according to expert testimony.

Ayotte and her colleagues have been relentless in their effort to deny eligibility for the refundable CTC to children in immigrant families. These are families who pay billions of dollars in FICA and state and local taxes, comply with requirements to file federal income taxes, and are eligible under existing law to claim the CTC. These kids come from families earning less than $25,000 annually – many of whom make less that $10 an hour -- and rely on the CTC to provide for their children’s basic needs.

Ayotte’s proposal to require children to have a Social Security number will preclude lawfully present children and DREAMERs – children brought to this country by their parents -- from accessing the CTC lifeline.  There is no evidence that this categorical denial of eligibility will ferret out fraud. Commonsense must take hold.

Tax fraud is a huge problem that demands attention.  But we at the National Community Tax Coalition and Center for Economic Progress know for a fact that Senator Ayotte’s attack will harm CTC eligible immigrant children.

Each year, our 2,400 community-based organizations offers free Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) to low- and moderate-income families in all 50 states. In 2013, VITA programs served 36,000 taxpayers who are meeting their tax obligations by filing with Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) – numbers issued by the IRS to taxpayers ineligible for Social Security numbers.      

Our tax clinics emphasize training, quality assurance, and accuracy, to ensure that any tax credit claims are legal and legitimate – meaning that the children involved in the CTC claims are physically present in the U.S.

If Ayotte is serious about wanting to tackle fraud, then we urge her to consider effectively regulating incompetent and unscrupulous tax preparers and funding the IRS at a level necessary to ensure tax compliance.  

Senator Ayotte, sacrificing the wellbeing of vulnerable children would be a huge misfire in your attack on fraud. Please focus your energy in a less punitive and more productive direction.  

Coleman is president and CEO of the National Community Tax Coalition. David Marzahl is president and CEO of the Center for Economic Progress.

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