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Letter to Treasury: Withholding tax refunds to low-income families undermines the social safety n...

February 17, 2022 

The Honorable Janet Yellen 

Secretary of the Treasury 

U.S. Department of the Treasury 

1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. 

Washington, D.C. 20220  

Dear Secretary Yellen,

We, the undersigned 105 organizations, focus on promoting the well-being of children and families, financial security of low-income families, reduction of poverty and inequality, and protection of taxpayer rights. We write to express our concern that the Treasury Department’s practice of reducing or eliminating payments made in tax refunds to low-income families undermines the social safety net and threatens to push millions of children into poverty. 

The Child Tax Credit (CTC) and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) are intended to support families and low-income workers, and are rightly celebrated for lifting millions of children out of poverty. The expansion of the CTC this year cut child poverty nearly in half and reduced food insufficiency among families by 26 percent since July 2021. This years’ fully refundable credit was especially effective in reaching the 27 million children (including half of Black, Latinx, and rural children) who previously lost out on the full credit because their parents’ income was too low. But due to Treasury’s practice of offsetting tax refunds to collect government debt, millions of low-income families are at risk of not receiving these critical lifelines. While Congress protected advance CTC payments from offset, families who receive some or all of their CTC and EITC payments through tax refunds are at risk of having those refunds withheld for government debts. These offsets hurt families that are already demonstrably in financial distress and unable to afford their bills, and deprive low-income children of critical resources. 

Recognizing this problem, Education Secretary Cardona recently proclaimed that “he Child Tax Credit should be accessible, no matter your student loan repayment status,” and committed to ensuring that families with student loans in default will not experience offset of CTC funds this year. This is an important step forward. But this reprieve is temporary. Many families will be subject to offset due to unaffordable federal student loan debt once the suspension of student debt collection ends: over 8 million people are currently in default on their federal student loans, and they are overwhelmingly from low-income, low-wealth families and are disproportionately people of color. Roughly half of borrowers who default have dependent children, suggesting that millions of families could lose out on these antipoverty payments as a result of Treasury offset. Further, taxpayers with non-student loan debts remain vulnerable to offset of CTC and EITC payments this year. 

We therefore urge you to consider ways to protect the EITC and CTC from offset, and to work with others in the Administration to develop solutions. The IRS has the authority to bypass the offset requirement when it would create economic hardship, but the National Taxpayer Advocate reports that just 511 taxpayers received offset bypass refunds (OBR) in 2021.  We ask you to immediately direct the IRS to make maximum use of its existing authority to waive offsets, to support the National Taxpayer Advocate’s recommendation to prohibit offset of the EITC portion of tax refunds, and to include recommendations for additional legislative protections in the Administration’s FY 2023 request to Congress (the Green Book).

We also ask that the Treasury provide data to allow policymakers and the public to better understand the scope of this problem, including data reflecting the number of taxpayers eligible for the CTC or EITC who experienced offsets and the total dollar amount of offset from those taxpayers. Treasury should also implement systems to readily identify offsets of the CTC and EITC. We welcome the opportunity to meet with you and Treasury Department staff to discuss ways to address this problem and ensure that children and families are not driven into poverty by the Treasury Offset Program.

Sincerely,

Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)

National Consumer Law Center (on behalf of its low-income clients)

The Institute for College Access & Success

20/20 Vision DC

Alaska PIRG

American Friends Service Committee

American Muslim Health Professionals (AMHP)

Americans for Financial Reform 

Bet Tzedek Legal Services

Bread for the World

Californians for Economic Justice 

CARPLS Legal Aid

CASH Campaign of Maryland 

Center for American Progress

Center for Economic Integrity

Center for LGBTQ Economic Advancement & Research (CLEAR)

Center for Responsible Lending

Center for Taxpayer Rights

Center for the Study of Social Policy

Chicago Urban League

Child Welfare League of America

Children's Defense Fund

Children's Home & Aid

Clearinghouse on Women's Issues

Coalition on Human Needs

Community Economic Development Association of Michigan (CEDAM)

Community Legal Services of Philadelphia

Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, U.S. Provinces

Connecticut Legal Services, Inc.

Consumer Action

Consumer Federation of America

Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety

Criminalization of Poverty Project at The Institute for Policy Studies 

Delaware Community Reinvestment Action Council, Inc.

Economic Security Project

Faith in Public Life

Feminist Majority Foundation

Financial Inclusion for All Illinois

First Focus on Children

Florida Consumer Action Network

Fordham Law School Feerick Center for Social Justice

Georgia Watch

Greater Boston Legal Services

Heartland Alliance

Hispanic Federation

Housing and Economic Rights Advocates

Indiana Community Action Poverty Institute

Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy

Iowa Citizen Action Network

Legal Action Chicago

Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada

Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia

Legal Services of New Jersey

Lewis and Clark LITC

Maine Equal Justice

Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

MI/Welfare Rights Organization

Michigan's Children

National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd

National Association of Consumer Advocates

National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA)

National Association of Social Workers

National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators

National Center for Law and Economic Justice

National Community Action Partnership

National Consumers League

National Women’s Law Center

Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice

New America Higher Education Program

New Economy Project

New Mexico Center on Law & Poverty

New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG)

Northwest Consumer Law Center

Ohio Poverty Law Center

Ohio Student Association

Oregon Food Bank

ParentsTogether Action

PHAT Technologies, LLC

Prince George's CASH Campaign

Prosperity Indiana

Prosperity Now

Prosperity Works

Public Good Law Center

Public Justice Center

Public Law Center

RESULTS

SaverLife

SC Appleseed Legal Justice Center

Student Borrower Protection Center

Student Debt Crisis Center

The Arc of the United States

The Education Trust

The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice

The National Domestic Violence Hotline

Tzedek DC

Union for Reform Judaism

Universal Income Project

University of Baltimore Low Income Taxpayer Clinic

VOICE (Voices Organized in Civic Engagement) 

Voices for Vermont's Children

Western Center on Law & Poverty

Wildfire: Igniting Community Action to End Poverty in Arizona

Woodstock Institute

Young Invincibles

ZERO TO THREE

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