Spending time with family and friends, laughing around the table, and volunteering to serve the people who are hungry at my church — all of these moments bring me a sense of joy. Just as I excitedly await the holiday season, there is another time of year that I look forward to: tax time. Tax season has become like another celebration for my family because of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC).

I work full time, but I still find myself in the rut of not being able to afford the costs of everyday life. As the saying goes, I have to rob Peter to pay Paul. It is my reality. How do I decide which bill to prioritize when they are all important? A roof over our heads, electricity, heat, and water — these are all essential. 

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Throughout the year, I’ve learned to make payment arrangements to prevent my utilities from being disconnected. I've learned how to stretch a dollar bill by counting out 100 pennies so that I never forget the importance of every single cent. It’s not easy, but the EITC and CTC provide us with the crucial support we need to get by. Every penny counts.

The EITC and CTC lifted 9.8 million hardworking Americans out of poverty in 2014 alone. These tax credits help so many people make ends meet, but important improvements are due to expire in 2017. If Congress does nothing, 50 million people will lose part or all of their tax credits. About 16 million people, including 8 million children, will fall into poverty or deeper into poverty. If Congress does not act to make these provisions permanent, it will have an impact on families like mine.

Every year at tax time, my husband and I can catch up on paying bills and feel free from those worries when we take our kids to the mall and let them choose a new pair of shoes. I’m able to breathe a deep sigh of relief knowing that I can finally replace worn-out clothing and make sure they have what they need. There is nothing quite like watching the joy on my kids’ faces as they run and play in a new pair of shoes they were able to pick out themselves. It’s a wonderful feeling for all of us.

I spend my tax refund on making sure my kids have the things they need, and in turn, the local businesses where I live in Indianapolis benefit. Studies show that my children will do better in school and earn more when they are adults because they’ve benefitted from the EITC and CTC.

I work so hard to give my children the best I possibly can — everyone does. If Congress can offer tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy, they can also make sure that working moms like me don’t have to choose between turning on the heat this winter and paying the rent. Congress should act quickly to extend — or better yet, make permanent — these crucial provisions to the EITC and CTC that help me and millions of other families stay above the poverty line.

Thomas lives in Indianapolis where she is a volunteer with RESULTS.  She is a mother of five and a member of the RESULTS “Experts on Poverty” program, a group of volunteers who speak with legislators about their firsthand experiences with poverty.