As reported, the wealthy make out “real” good in Republican proposals to overhaul the tax code, but not so much so for minority communities, who often are low to middle income. In fact, policy analysts for liberal think tanks and civil rights groups project the proposed tax plan will further widen the economic gulf between wealthy and minority communities, according to.
Here are some of the things to keep your eyes on.
Doubled Standard Deduction
On the surface, the Republican plan to nearly double the standard deduction appears to be a windfall for average Americans, but don’t start planning how you’d spend those savings yet.
Another un-touted proposed change that would eliminate personal exemptions would significantly reduce the benefit for some people and conceivably wipe it out for others.
A family with two or more children actually could end up worse off than under the current tax code, depending on the final shape of the law.
“It is definitely not a windfall,” Jacob Leibenluft, a senior advisor at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank, said of the larger standard deduction.
“You have all of these pieces that serve to give with one hand and take away with another hand and whether people come out as winners or losers we won’t know until we get all the details,” he said.
The uncertainty about the effects of the larger standard deduction, which affects lower- and middle-income earners, contrasts with the clear benefits already in the Republican tax plan for wealthy Americans. The top tax rate would be lowered to 35% from 39.6% and the estate tax and alternative minimum tax would be eliminated.
“They’ve done a big specific tax break for the wealthy and they are much more muddled for those at the bottom and in the middle,” Leibenluft said.
The larger proposed standard deduction would mean that individual filers would be able to reduce their taxable income by $12,000 right off the top instead of the current $6,350 ($24,000 for married family instead of $12,700.
Sounds good, but the framework also proposes eliminating the existing $4,050 exemption that can be claimed by taxpayers for themselves, their spouses and their dependents and also reduces taxable income. That exemption currently phases out at upper-income levels.
Under existing law, a single filer can combine the $6,350 standard deduction and $4,050 personal exemption to shield $10,400 from federal income tax. Under the Republican plan, a single filer can shield $12,000, so there’s a $1,600 benefit there.
But it’s a different story for people with children.
Under existing tax law, a married couple with two children can combine the $12,700 standard deduction and $16,200 in personal and dependent exemptions to shield $28,900 from federal income tax. Under the Republican plan, that same couple would be able to shield just $24,000.
“Increasing the standard deduction and losing the personal exemption is a trade-off that might work for single filers with no kids,” said Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. “It doesn’t work at all for a single filer with two kids. They’d be worse off.”
“The more kids you have, the worse off you are in that trade-off,” he said.
Childcare Tax Credit
The Republican plan promises to offset some of the loss from eliminating the personal exemption for families by “significantly” increasing the existing $1,000 tax credit available for each child younger than 17 years old. That’s because in order to pass their tax reform plan, Republicans will probably need to include a real benefit for working families, not just corporations and high earners. And expanding the child tax credit, long supported by religious groups on the right, may be the easiest way to do that. As Samuel Hammond, a poverty and welfare analyst at the Niskanen Center, put it, Republicans have somewhat inadvertently made the child tax credit “the center focus of tax reform.”
Right now, parents can get a tax credit of up to $1,000 per child under the age of 17, according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. If they owe more than that in taxes, it reduces their tax liability. If they owe less, they can get back the credit as a refund — in that case, they get no more than 15 percent of any earnings over $3,000.
That means to get the full $1,000 for a single child, a family needs to make about $9,700 a year. To get the full credit for three children, they need to make even more. Families making under $3,000 a year get nothing from the credit.
Families with high incomes don’t get the credit either. It starts to phase out at $75,000 annual income for single parents and $110,000 for married couples.
What will be the actual plan that comes out of a compromise bill is important, but it looks right now that the wealthy will benefit the most and the poor some, to none. The child-care deduction the Trump campaign proposed in September was to be in addition to the current child tax credit and dependent-care flexible spending accounts—and would be available to families with a stay-at-home parent as well as to those paying for child care.
The plan Ivanka Trump wants would allow individuals earning less than $250,000 a year, or married couples earning less than $500,000, to deduct child care expenses from their income taxes—up to the average cost of care in their state, according to the plan introduced in September.
Lower-income families, who would see less benefit from such a tax change because they have less tax liability, would receive a rebate for their expenses—up to $1,200 a year through the earned-income tax credit, Trump’s proposal states.
Another plan would just increase the existing tax credit by raising the income level at which the credit starts to phase out, meaning higher-income families could get more benefit from the credit.
The increase won’t be much help to low-income families. It’s not clear exactly how the Republican plan will change the income ceiling for the credit, but it is clear that some higher-income families will “go from getting a partial credit or no credit to getting a full credit,” said Elaine Maag, a senior research associate at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.
Meanwhile, some low-income families won’t benefit from the plan, at least the way it looks now. The plan doesn’t change the amount of the tax credit that’s refundable, said Hammond, who’s working on a campaign to expand the child tax credit. That means that families that make enough money to owe taxes could see their liability reduced by more than $1,000, but families who don’t owe any taxes won’t get more than $1,000 back from the credit.
To really help low-income families, Maag said, lawmakers would have to make more of the credit refundable to poor families. They could do that by changing the refundability formula.
Student Loan Interest Deduction
The House wants to eliminate the student loan tax deduction that allows Americans with gross income of $65,000 a year or less to deduct $2,500 in interest payments on their student loans. Doing so would disproportionately hurt African Americans, Solomon said, because they are more likely to incur student loan debt as well as fall within the income bracket to earn the full deduction.
Nearly a third of black households reported having education loans in 2016, compared to a fifth of white and Hispanic families, according to Fed data.
Qualified Tuition Reduction
The House plan would also start to tax the tuition break graduate students currently receive in exchange for research or teaching assistance. Doing so would remove a key incentive for students to pursue doctoral programs and raise students’ tax bills, Solomon said.
The proposal would make it even harder for African Americans and Hispanics to improve their economic futures by enrolling in advanced degree programs — where they are already underrepresented.
New Markets Tax Credit
The new Markets Tax Credit program is just one of the eliminations from the proposed plan that concerns liberal policy makers. The New Markets Tax Credit Program was established as part of the Community Renewal Tax Relief Act of 2000. The program provides tax credit incentives to investors as a way to spur revitalization efforts of low-income and impoverished communities.
“Over the years, this program has pumped billions of dollars into African-American communities – money that was matched by the private sector – and created good-paying jobs and spurred economic development,” said Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke, D-N.Y. “Massive spending cuts coupled with a repeal of economic development incentive programs like NMTC will devastate African-American communities for generations to come.”
Paying for the Tax Cuts
The Senate tax bill would add $1.5 trillion to the national debt over the next decade and trigger the “Pay As You Go” (paygo) rule, which requires across-the-board spending cuts to a variety of mandatory programs including Medicare, if the costs of the tax cuts aren’t fully offset by revenue increases.
Among the programs that could face severe cuts are those that provide funding for historically Black colleges and universities, tribal colleges, child care services and affordable housing, policy analysts say.
Marc Morial, president and chief executive of the National Urban League, suggested that President Trump’s budget blueprint earlier this year provided a road map of program cuts to offset the tax cuts.
“Any fiscal plan that preordains political pressure on budget cuts for human services and social services will really hurt people of color,” Morial said.