House passes overhaul of child tax credit

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The House on Friday passed legislation to overhaul the child tax credit to ensure it applies only to legal residents.

Passed 237-173, the bill would require applicants to provide their Social Security numbers in order to receive the $1,000 refundable tax credit, instead of just their Taxpayer Identification Numbers.

Requiring Social Security numbers would prevent undocumented immigrants from being eligible for the credit.

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Republicans said requiring a Social Security number would prevent tax fraud. Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) said the provision would discourage undocumented immigrants from trying to take advantage of the system.

"Right now the IRS is providing this refundable child tax credit to those who are here illegally," Johnson said. "The last thing we need is to continue to encourage folks from Central America to make the dangerous and life-threatening trek to Texas."

Democrats said the change would push children whose parents are undocumented into poverty.

"This provision will harm millions of American kids who are in the United States living in immigrant families," said Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.). 

"These children and their families would be cut off from crucial tax relief if this becomes law."

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Rubén Hinojosa (D-Texas) warned the GOP was alienating Latino voters.

"From their border recommendations to their failure to act on comprehensive immigration reform, House Republican attacks on the Latino community have persisted," Hinojosa said. "It is time House Republicans stop these attacks and focus on what really matters — creating jobs, strengthening our economy, and ensuring the success of middle-class families."

The bill would also eliminate the marriage penalty by increasing the joint filing phase-out threshold to twice the amount for single filers. Specifically, it would hike the phase-out threshold for couples filing jointly from $110,000 to $150,000. The threshold would be $75,000 for individuals and married couples filing separately.

Democrats argued the bill would make it harder for low-income families to qualify for the credit because it does not extend current law that reduces the earnings threshold for particularly low-income families to get at least a partial credit. The existing provision, which became law in 2009, will expire in 2017.

"Rather than strengthening this anti-poverty program, the bill will take away, eviscerate, wipe out benefits for the most vulnerable Americans," said Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.).

Republicans said the change would make it simpler for families to calculate their eligibility.

"The bill before us actually evens the playing field," said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.). "What this bill does is actually expand the benefit that goes to singles to married people. I don't know why the other side is opposed to people getting married."

The White House issued a veto threat against the legislation.

"H.R. 4935 would immediately eliminate the Child Tax Credit for millions of American children whose parents immigrated to this country, including U.S. citizen children and 'Dreamers,' and would push many of these children into or deeper into poverty," the White House said in a statement of administration policy.