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Tax Credit Expansion Clears House, Heads To Governor’s Desk


The House of Delegates approved on nearly a party line vote Friday a bill that extends tax breaks to low-income immigrants despite the objections of Republicans who warned it would benefit those without legal status in the United States.

The bill expands the state’s existing Earned Income Tax Credit so that low-income residents who file taxes with Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers, or ITINs, instead of Social Security numbers may qualify.

That includes immigrants who may, or may not, have legal status. And that’s what bothered Republicans, whose arguments echoed those in the debate over this bill in the Senate.

House minority leader Kathy Szeliga argued that while government should uphold the law “this bill is rewarding people who have broken our law.”

“It's even encouraging people to come here,” she said. “They have three years to get money from Maryland taxpayers.”

Nino Mangione, a Baltimore County Republican, said this bill and others, such as one passed several years ago that grants in-state tuition at Maryland colleges to the children of immigrants without legal status, puts a burden on the state.

“These are the same bills I believe, that puts strain on many of our public resources, overcrowd our schools, our hospitals,” he said. “You cannot deny the fact that bills like this encourage more illegal immigration.”

But Democrats argued those filing taxes with an ITIN have been contributing taxes and deserve a break.

Jheanelle Wilkins, a Montgomery County Democrat who was born in Jamaica, said members of her family have had many different statuses in the United States, from undocumented to green card holders.

“We've been ITIN filers,” she said. “And we've always been productive citizens who've paid our taxes just like the Marylanders who will benefit from this tax relief.”

Gabriel Acevero, also a Montgomery County Democrat, said the bill was the right way to recognize the contributions of people who have been “paying into the pot.”

Those who argue against the bill “are now saying, even though you paid you paid in to the pot, we are not willing to help you,” he said. “We are not willing to provide you any kind of relief. Instead, we're going to scapegoat you.”

Immigrant rights groups hailed passage of the bill.

Pablo Blank, director of immigrant integration at CASA, said it recognizes the contributions of the immigrant community.

“It’s a recognition that many of them are essential workers who have been helping the broader community, working hard during this time,” he said. “They need support to pay bills to pay the rent to provide food for the kids.” 

Jenniffer Ventura, a senior at Blake High School in Montgomery County, said it will help her and her mother, an undocumented immigrant whose work cleaning houses has fallen off sharply during the pandemic.

“It’s been shaky,” she said “Sometimes she goes weeks without having a client that she has to go to clean. And sometimes she cleans every once in a while. But having a relief would help us a lot with expenditures.”

State Comptroller Peter Franchot, who has been advocating for the bill, said there are some 86,000 people in Maryland who file with ITIN numbers and who have paid more than $100 million in taxes. He said about 60,000 of them would be eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit.

“So, why would we turn our backs on them,” he asked. “That is a just a really callous thing. I mean, these are people that work here that pay taxes that are good, law abiding citizens.”

It’s unclear what will happen to the bill when it gets to Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk. His spokeswoman Shareese Churchill said in an email he will “review the final legislation.”

Joel McCord is a trumpet player who learned early in life that that’s no way to make a living.
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