Kristin Reese: I witness how poverty harms children. Connecticut can change that.

Back • April 2, 2022 • Fiscal & Economics

“Thank you so much. You don’t know how badly I need this money. I’m a single mom, I have three kids, my son’s birthday is next month and there are bills to pay.”

As both a pediatrician and volunteer tax preparer, I witness the power of the Earned Income Tax Credit and federal Child Tax Credit to decrease child poverty and build healthier, happier children.

In a year fraught with many pandemic-related hardships, many Connecticut families and children are struggling. This legislative session, Connecticut has the opportunity to help these families with HB 5403, which would establish a Connecticut state Child Tax Credit, and SB 383, which would increase the applicable percentage of the EITC.

I provide pediatric primary care in New Haven, and every day I witness how poverty harms children. Families with limited financial means often struggle to afford basic necessities, maintain stable housing, eat nutritious food and stay physically active. These children are at higher risk of developing chronic health conditions, such as asthma and obesity.

As one step in ameliorating the harmful effects of poverty, our pediatric clinic has offered free tax preparation services to our families for the past three years by partnering with an IRS-certified Volunteer Income Tax Assistance site. We ensure that families are claiming all credits they qualify for, because for some families, like that single mom of three kids, receiving the maximum refund means not choosing between birthday presents and the electric bill.

There is also a body of research linking the EITC and CTC to improved health outcomes. The EITC has been shown to increase workforce participation among single women with children and help families pay for basic essentials. The receipt of the EITC is associated with improvements in infant health, with lower rates of low birth weight babies, fewer preterm births and increased prenatal care among these families. Moreover, research suggests that children raised in families receiving the EITC and CTC do better in school, are more likely to attend college and can be expected to earn more as adults.

In 2021, we saw how the federal CTC decreased child poverty. However, as it stands, child tax credit payments will not be renewed this year. According to data from the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University, child poverty rose nationally in January as a result.

Connecticut’s tax system is unfair. Despite being a wealthy state, Connecticut has the second-highest level of income inequality in the nation and a substantial racial income gap. It is hard for working- and middle-class families, especially families of color, to make ends meet. Connecticut is one of only four states with an income tax that does not adjust for family size or child-care expenses to help offset the high and growing cost of raising children. A Connecticut CTC would help these families and bring Connecticut’s income tax more in line with other state income taxes.

To be sure, there is a price tag. But these critical economic investments in young families generate economic output, as well as lifetime savings in medical care and social support. A report by Connecticut Voices for Children estimates that establishing a $300 million Connecticut CTC would increase the state’s economic output by $375 million. In addition, they report that establishing a Connecticut CTC would help grow Connecticut’s economy over the medium-to-long term by making it more affordable for working- and middle-class families to stay in Connecticut and have more children.

What can you do to help? Please write to your state senator and state representative. Ask them to support HB 5403 and SB 383. We must invest in our children today.

Dr. Kristin Reese is a pediatrician in New Haven.