As Congress negotiates economic recovery legislation, the country is presented with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform the economy and address the systemic social inequities laid bare by the Covid-19 pandemic. FCNL advocates are focused on two tax programs that have prevented millions of people—especially in communities of color and other vulnerable groups—from falling into poverty.
Food justice and anti-hunger activist Barbie Izquierdo understands the value of programs like the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). She is a well-known voice for food justice, regularly speaking at workshops and conferences, with top media outlets, and even at the White House.
Yet, despite all these and despite her work with Hunger Free America, Barbie says she “would still come home to an empty fridge.”
Tax credits like the EITC remain one of her primary barriers from falling back into poverty, especially while raising her 14- and 16-year-old children as a single mother.
“[These programs] help you catch up, and it alleviates some of the burden of being reminded that you’re poor. They’ve definitely helped me on many occasions,” said Barbie. “I’m someone who has been through domestic violence. So a lot of my EITC credits have gone towards moving when I’ve had to run away. Who knows if I would be here today if I didn’t have that help?”
Outside of Social Security, the EITC and CTC prevent more people from falling into poverty than any other federal program. Despite their tremendous value, these tax credits are at constant risk of being reduced or dis-mantled since Congress has not made them permanent.
Lifting oneself out of poverty is not a one-time, clear-cut occurrence. Nor can it be trivialized as a “bootstrap” story. It can be a murky, extended process riddled with challenges and social stigma.
Barbie started gaining public attention more than ten years ago after taking her son several times to the emergency room. He had vision problems caused by the lack of heat in their Philadelphia home. A meeting with a social worker led her to begin speaking publicly about her and her children’s experience living in poverty.
Despite their tremendous value, these tax credits are at constant risk of being reduced or dismantled.
In 2013, Barbie shared her story in the film A Place at the Table. The documentary exposed the widespread, interconnected, and little-understood implications of hunger and poverty in the United States—and spotlighted time-tested, practical solutions like the EITC, CTC, and other federal programs.
Without these programs, falling back into poverty is an ever-present threat, especially when combined with new challenges. Barbie recently delivered a keynote speech for which she was paid her largest honorarium to date. Before the check even hit her bank account, $5,000 of her wages were garnished by the university she was enrolled in. Barbie left an abusive relationship earlier this year, and her ex did not forward her mail. She was unaware that this financial hit was coming.
Around the same time, another university department offered Barbie $250 to speak at an event, oblivious to what she had just experienced.
This type of ironic tragedy is startlingly familiar to thousands of people like Barbie.
“I have been battling the stigma that comes with people who use assistance programs and fighting the narratives about how people who benefit are stealing from the system, don’t want to work, or are lazy,” she said.
Barbie said that by actually making these programs permanent and making them accessible, people like her will work hard to advance themselves and become great advocates for the community.
“For the past 13 years, I’ve not only tried to give a better quality of life to my children, after everything that we’ve endured, but more so tried to make sure that people in my community aren’t going through the same things.
“If there are any budget cuts to any programs that will affect them, I help to raise awareness and advocate on those issues and continue to battle stigma.”
Barbie Izquierdo spoke during the 2018 Annual Meeting
and Quaker Public Policy Institute. Kristen Archer is a
freelance writer for FCNL. Tell your members of Congress to
make Child Tax and Earned Income Tax credits permanent