Steve Ruark/AP Photo
Maryland House Speaker Adrienne Jones, left, and Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson stand in front of a joint session of the legislature in this February 2020 file photo. Both supported extending a valuable tax credit to tax filers without Social Security numbers.
Steve Ruark/AP Photo
Low-income noncitizens in Maryland will be eligible for an enhanced state tax credit for the next three years under legislation that cleared the state's General Assembly on Friday.
Supporters of the bill say that allowing taxpayers without Social Security numbers to collect Maryland's Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) will provide much-needed aid to many essential workers who are typically ineligible for the benefit.
The tax credit got a big boost last month after lawmakers approved the RELIEF Act, the $1.2 billion state stimulus package that Gov. Larry Hogan called his top legislative priority. The package increased the value of the EITC refund over the next three years, making it the most generous in the country, but it did not extend to undocumented residents.
After Friday's vote, Marylanders without children who earn no more than $15,820 a year — including undocumented residents — can collect the credit starting this tax year. The income limit is $56,844 for married couples who file jointly with three or more qualifying children.
The legislation expands the credit to an estimated 60,000 low-income Marylanders who file their taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, as opposed to a Social Security number.
But Marylanders must file their taxes to get the benefit. That has proven to be a barrier for low-income households who qualify for the EITC but don't file taxes because they're not required to. In Maryland, roughly 400,000 residents received the credit last year, but analysts say that number doesn't reflect the true number of working residents who are eligible.
Lawmakers opted to exclude undocumented noncitizens from the RELIEF Act in order to get it passed quickly last month. Democrats later introduced a separate bill to expand benefits to undocumented residents, many of whom pay taxes but aren't eligible for tax refunds.
"No Marylander deserves to wonder where their next meal will come from, how to buy their child's diapers, or how to pay for life saving medicine — especially when they go to work every single day," Democratic leaders of the state Senate and House of Delegates wrote last month.
It's not clear how many newly eligible EITC recipients in Maryland are undocumented immigrants.
The proposal divided lawmakers sharply along partisan lines, with Republicans calling it a handout to people residing in the U.S. illegally. "It doesn't respect the citizens who work hard for their money," said Senate Minority Leader Bryan Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel).
Hogan, a Republican, has indicated he won't veto the legislation. Democrats hold supermajorities in both chambers.
This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.