Professor Mary Pareja's Article in the West Virginia Law Review Proposes Restructuring Earned Income Tax Credit to Improve Child Welfare

February 16, 2015 - Tamara Williams

Professor Mary Leto ParejaProfessor Mary Leto Pareja, whose expertise is in health law and economic justice issues, has recently written an article proposing restructuring of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to improve child welfare. “Earned Income Tax Credit Portability: Respecting the Autonomy of American Families,” has been published in the current issue of the West Virginia Law Review.

According to Pareja’s article, the EITC was a key component of the welfare reform movement that began in the 1970s and expanded in the 1990s. Politicians and the public saw the EITC as a helping hand to working families – a way to “make work pay.”

The EITC today is the single largest federal anti-poverty program in the United States. Although the EITC clearly is targeted at families with children, it is not optimally structured to improve child welfare. The current rules limit EITC eligibility to a taxpayer who lives with a child more than six months of the year, presumably on the assumption that shared residence is a rough stand-in for support of a child. This rough approach hurts many children.

Pareja’s article argues that, in many situations, child welfare would be improved if the noncustodial parent were able to claim the EITC and share the resulting refund with his or her children. To accomplish this, the article proposes that the law be changed to make the EITC portable between custodial and noncustodial parents. This article proposes replacing an inflexible rule based on an assumption with a more flexible rule that is not only easy for the IRS to administer but which respects the autonomy of modern American families.