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May 22, 2015

Getting a Lift Out of Poverty


Every day, across Virginia, people who work hard for low pay struggle to meet their basic needs, let alone get ahead. When we help them move toward the middle class we help the state’s economy, and a new report shows that public programs and targeted tax credits are more effective than we thought at helping Virginians meet their daily needs and rise out of poverty.

The report finds that various forms of public assistance for working people have helped over 780,000 Virginians rise out of poverty and meet their all of their daily needs, like food, housing, and utilities. We’re talking here about help like SNAP (food stamps), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, Social Security, and the state and federal earned-income tax credits.  

Some people have it even worse. They experience what experts call deep poverty – being unable to meet even half of the cost of food, housing, and other daily needs. These programs helped about 820,000 Virginians get out of deep poverty, the report found.

But it’s not enough. There are still over 900,000 Virginians who don’t have enough to meet their daily needs and support their families, and more than 250,000 in deep poverty. That shows there’s more we can do help folks climb the ladder toward supporting their families and building a future.

We can strengthen the state’s version of the earned-income tax credit, for example. Today it helps offset families’ state income tax, but some people are paid so little they owe less in income tax than the size of their credit. So they can’t use all of their tax credit, even though other taxes – the sales tax, for example, or property taxes – take a big bite from their incomes. And at the federal level, our members of Congress should support efforts to extend enhancements to federal tax credits for working families that are set to expire at the end of 2017.

State lawmakers can also take commonsense steps to make sure that every family has an affordable place to live, that all of the state’s students have the nutrition they need to learn, and that workers can make ends meet while they look for a new job if they’re laid off through no fault of their own.

When we help families maintain stability, promote work, increase productivity, and help kids to do better in school, we invest in building the foundation for success. Programs that help lift people out of poverty make progress down that road and keep all Virginians on the path to building a vibrant economy.

–Mitchell Cole, Policy Analyst

The Commonwealth Institute

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