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It is hard enough to work every day and still remain poor. Heavier still is the burden thrust upon the working grandmothers, aunts and uncles who struggle to hold together extended families in the relentlessly hostile environment of Bush’s America, by caring for the children. Yet it is these struggling families that the Bush men have singled out for humiliation and further impoverishment. Confident that they have smashed the very idea of economic justice in America, the Administration is preparing to turn the Internal Revenue Service into a grand inquisitor of the poor.

Like a pack of pot-bellied hyenas, the Bush men instinctively target the weak – in this instance, the four million extended families among the 16 million households that make use of federal Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC). Under proposed changes in the EITC rules, relatives raising children not directly their own, the saviors of so many fragile families, will have to submit additional documents in order to prove that they deserve a tax credit that they have already earned through years of Social Security payments. Some of these documents are impossible to obtain in the real world of the poor. That’s why Bush’s Treasury Department is asking for them.

The Earned Income Tax Credit program began in 1975 as a work incentive for low-income families. Typically providing about $2,000 to families with children, EITC is “probably our country’s most effective program to lift working families out of poverty,” according the Maude Hurd, President of ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. EITC helped almost five million people escape poverty in 1999, more than half of them children. In the twisted logic of the organized rich, that’s reason enough to bring in the IRS.

Torture by paperwork

The Bush men are carrying on the tradition of harassing the poor away from programs that might better their lives. While congressional strangulation has crippled the IRS’s ability to audit rich individuals, whose cheating costs the public an estimated $30 billion a year, the Bush Treasury Department proposes to force the poor to jump through impossible hoops to receive help in caring for their children.

ACORN successfully lobbied against some of the wickedest rule changes, including a requirement that caretakers prove they are related to the children they are raising “by submitting marriage certificates from marriages that occurred many years ago, or in other countries, or between two people other than the person filing the forms,” said ACORN spokesman David Swanson. There can be no purpose to such torture by paperwork than to drive deserving families out of the program.

It is inconceivable that middle class constituencies would be subjected to this kind of bureaucratic bullying. “Imagine if millions of homeowners were required to produce this sort of documentation before obtaining their mortgage interest deduction,” said ACORN President Hurd.  “A proposal like that would end political careers.  So should this one.  It’s time to raise our voices and make sure these burdensome new rules for families working and raising children on modest wages are not allowed to go beyond the planning stages.”

The Department of Catch-22s

The Treasury Department backed off of the marriage certificate requirements, but continues to erect barriers for participation in EITC. For example, new procedures would require that caretakers prove to the IRS that a child has lived with them for at least six months, but specifically disqualifies neighbors from attesting to these facts. Yet daycare providers who live across town are permitted to sign affidavits vouching for the child’s residency. It is a carefully constructed Catch-22, in which neighbors who can best verify the actual living arrangements of children are rejected, while day care providers who have never seen the inside of a child’s home are asked to attest to his place of residence. Many childcare providers have announced that they will refuse to swear to such unknowable facts.

The Bush men conspire to weaken both the extended families of the poor and the neighborhood ties that support these families. Many working people prefer that neighbors care for their children during the work shift.  However, under the proposed rules neighbors who also care for children cannot sign affidavits attesting to the child’s residency unless they are licensed providers. (Ministers are exceptions!) As ACORN points out, “studies indicate that 75 percent to 80 percent of family day care providers in the nation are not licensed.” Thus, those neighbors who are most familiar with the child’s circumstances – practical partners with the family in caring for the child – would be forbidden to sign the documents necessary to qualify for EITC.

Unable to destroy the highly successful EITC program legislatively, the Bush administration attempts to gut it through rules changes, just as they are preparing to “reform” Head Start to death. Indeed, the Bush men wage war on the poor on so many fronts, even 160,000-family strong ACORN finds its defensive ranks stretched thin.  Spokesman David Swanson puts it this way:

“First, the extremely rich are given huge tax cuts, leading to cuts in schools, health care, and other useful programs, and leaving states and cities in the position of having to make cuts or raise taxes.  Then, low-income taxpayers are quietly cut out of the child tax credit at the last minute.  Apparently only children of wealthier parents need support.  Finally, the IRS is proposing the most cynical possible maneuver to limit the number of families who obtain the Earned Income Tax Credit, setting up a guilty-until-proven-innocent system that would fly exactly as well as a brick if proposed for wealthy tax payers or even corporations.”

To the Bush men, all’s fair in pursuit of class war. They make up the rules on the way to the bank, laughing at the uses they have found for the IRS, anticipating a world in which the rich are immune from taxation and only the poor are audited.

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